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Yet Another Death in Venice

Tim Heald. Open Road/MysteriousPress.com, $14.99 trade paper (222p) ISBN 978-1-4804-6828-3

Heald's 13th Bognor novel (after 2011's Poison at the Pueblo) centers on a familiar sleuth working for a shadowy British intelligence agency, fittingly titled the Special Investigations Department of the Board of Trade. During a visit to Venice, Bognor is asked by his friend and local police officer Michael Dibdini to assist his investigations into a baffling crime. While traveling by boat along the Grand Canal, Irving G. Silverburger, a B-movie producer, is fatally shot by someone in a harlequin costume wielding a crossbow. Because the murder took place in the midst of Carnival—when many people dress in a similar fashion—Dibdini has had a hard time getting any traction on the case. In turn, Bognor agrees to help, while focusing his energies on pursuing suspects back in England. There are frequent winks at the reader familiar with the genre, such as this little gem: Bognor "tended to believe, along with P.D. James, that murder was essentially a working-class business, even if it became more interesting in middle-class hands." This mystery will appeal to readers looking for humor in their whodunits, although some will find a surreal detour toward the end superfluous. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Time Is a Toy: The Selected Poems of Michael Benedikt

Michael Benedikt, edited by John Gallaher and Laura Boss. Univ. of Akron, $19.95 trade paper (236p) ISBN 978-1-937378-79-0

Lauded in the 1970s as a master of the prose poem, Benedikt (1935-2007) now seems inseparable from that decade: the whimsical, yet deeply pessimistic writer rose to prominence with the bizarre long lines of Sky (1970) and the fathomlessly sad prose blocks of Mole Notes (1971). In the former, "the sky goes around dropping airliners all the time," while the Kafkaesque latter contains "a poetry almost empty of encouraging imagery." What Benedikt's sentences lack in verbal sparkle they make up for in gallows humor, in their truth to a frustration that others may share. An influential editor (The Prose Poem: An International Anthology), Benedikt fell into debilitating agoraphobia during the 1980s. Gallaher (Map of the Folded World) and Boss (Stripping) make a thorough case for the many pages of late poems this edition rescues, poems almost ended up in the trash: salvaged work from the 1970s contains many scary, on-target prose blocks, but his later or lineated works include diffuse memoirs, near-memos to better-known friends (Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, James Tate), where "some of the things which can happen to talented people in this world// Are unfair & sometimes seem intolerable." (Apr.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Black Rose Alice, Vol. 1

Setona Mizushiro. Viz, $9.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-4215-7160-7

Writer-illustrator Mizushiro, best known for her Eisner Award–nominated After School Nightmare, pens another tale of youth, loss, and emotional self-destruction via vampires. Dimitri Lewandoski, an up-and-coming Venetian singer in the early 1900s , is caught up in a love square that involves aristocrat Agnieszka, the object of his love since childhood; her fiancee Theodor, who happens to be his best friend; and Dimitri’s lover/patron, the middle-aged Duchess Lorenz. However, following a carriage accident, Dimitri is reanimated as a vampire by a floating seed that reanimates his corpse. The prerequisite “in the know” people show up and inform Dimitri of the consequences: sleep with the love of his life just once, and he, too, will go to seed and perish. As Dimitri grapples with his budding powers and desires, the story shifts between past and present, presumably setting up a long tale of obsession with purity. This dual narrative lacks focus. The art is simple but full, with lovely costuming and styling, though the expressions worn by the characters’ faces are, at times, a bit flat. Overall, the book reads well but attempts a classical manga feel without quite delivering it. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sing No Evil

J.P. Ahonen and K.P. Alare. Abrams/ComicArts, $22.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1359-0

Stuttering Finnish guitarist Axel is the front man for Perkeros, a hard rock band whose evolution is kept in check by Axel’s awful vocals, and this dense graphic novel is an account of his artistic and personal travails. Axel’s concentration on the band at the expense of all else causes the disintegration of his long-term relationship. After Perkeros hires a better vocalist, Axel wrestles with insecurity and his own oppressive perfectionist tendencies. The book is similar to other “forging of the band” stories, but it features whimsical details, like a drummer who’s a bear, and is elevated by a tight script and stunning artwork that perfectly expresses the kick in the guts one feels when attending live rock shows in small clubs. The narrative needlessly veers into supernatural territory toward the end, seemingly in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. With its amazing artwork, this one’s a keeper—in spite of the late-in-coming demonic angle. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Little World of Liz Climo

Liz Climo. Running Press, $13.99 ISBN 978-0-76245-238-5

Climo, an animator on the Simpsons and a web cartoonist on Tumblr, is known for the quaint, twee quality of her work. Cute animals like sloths, mice, bears, and skunks, and even adorable dinosaurs, clutter Climo’s greeting-card world. This first collection gathers her webcomics and offers insight into the gentle personality behind it. But, as with other cartoon collections, Climo’s strips don’t really stand up to binge reading. She pulls off being cute and gentle with finesse, yet, even as it provides a chuckle here and there, the piling up of the cute may cause alarm among some readers. Best taken a little bit at a time. . Agent: Kathleen Ortiz, New Leaf Literary & Media (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lies in the Dust

Jakob Crane and Timothy Decker. Islandport, $14.95 (128) ISBN 978-1-93901-733-8

Ann Putnam Jr., a key witness in the 17th-century Salem witch trials, is a supporting character named Ruth in Arthur Miller’s classic allegory of McCarthyism, The Crucible, but she takes center stage under her own name in this debut graphic novel. Told mostly through flashbacks, the story culminates with her apology for her part in the trials, as a witness whose testimony was used to justify 20 executions in the Massachusetts township. As gripping as the real-life story is, Crane’s retelling is disjointed and never quite finds its narrative footing. Artist Decker’s illustrations don’t help matters much either. There are bits of clever composition here and there, but, on the whole, the work is sketchy, accompanied by typed lettering in clip-art word bubbles. Somewhere in the book, there’s a strong retelling of an important moment in American history, but Crane and Decker don’t manage to tease it out. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Syllabus

Lynda Barry. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 (200p) ISBN 978-1-77046-161-1

Award-winning alternative cartoonist legend Barry (100! Demons) returns with the third book in a series of hybrid comics that are both instructional and engaging. This graphic memoir/guide tells the story of Barry’s first three years teaching at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The book includes the syllabi for her courses in interdisciplinary creativity and most of the activities she ran with the students, as well as her personal musings about the classes. She includes student work and explores many fascinating pedagogical subjects, as well as deeper questions about creativity and the brain. She talks about what makes drawing interesting, and how her drawing style has changed as a result of teaching, with surprising results. She also continues her investigation of what an image is. This book is charming and readable and serves as an excellent guide for those seeking to break out of whatever writing and drawing styles they have been stuck in, allowing them to reopen their brains to the possibility of new creativity. Readers can pore over the exceptionally gorgeous graphic mixture of collage, inking, and watercolor for hours. Agent: Liz Darhansoff, Poets & Writers (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Every Day Needs a Dog

Billi Tiner. Tinerbooks, $10.50 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-4993-7112-3

Tiner’s faltering contemporary is full of distractions: a stalker, a serial rapist, overly aggressive dates, and cute dogs that are more props than characters. Elizabeth’s life changes dramatically when she is fired from her high-powered public relations job without explanation. She’s immediately offered a job as the president of an animal shelter. She accepts, not for the best reasons, but soon starts to enjoy the work, the dogs, and the shelter volunteers, especially big-hearted Paul. Tiner attempts to portray Paul as the knight rushing in to rescue the damsel in distress, but he comes across as a possessive and jealous guy with a hero complex. His propensity to violence may be excusable at first time, but he lashes out repeatedly, despite Elizabeth’s requests for him to back off. Despite the setting, the dogs don’t get much of the spotlight. The framework is there for a heartwarming romance, but the story falls short. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Honeymoon Trap

Kelly Hunter. Tule, $2.99 e-book (104p) ISBN 978-1-940296-59-3

Hunter tells this tiny jewel of a tale with an unabashed gusto that matches her heroine’s sparkling panache. One of Eli Jackson’s best friends is Fuzzy, a fellow gamer he hangs out with online on Friday afternoons for an hour of role-playing games and light chatter. When Fuzzy, also known as Zoey Daniels, shows up in the irrepressible flesh (and a delectable purple gown) at a gamers’ convention on Australia’s Gold Coast, Eli is shocked by their instantaneous sexual connection. But the obstacles to romance are significant: Eli still isn’t over the death of his previous girlfriend, and Zoey has a few issues about which she’s being uncharacteristically discreet. The emphasis is on startlingly direct communication and the headlong rush of impulse, leading to a marvelous, funny whirlwind of a romance. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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More than Music

Elizabeth Briggs. CreateSpace, $12.99 trade paper (310p) ISBN 978-1-4996-0799-4

Predictable but sweet harmonies characterize Briggs’s new adult debut, the first in the Chasing the Dream series. Maddie Taylor is a rising college senior with a particular gift for nearly flawless musical recall. She joins a friend’s band for a reality-show audition, thinking it’s a temporary arrangement until they find a new full-time bassist. The fine print, however, has her staying for much more than one song. She reluctantly gives up a prestigious internship to follow her rock-and-roll dream—and soon she’s falling for the band’s intense lead vocalist, Jared. Will they be able to traverse the quagmire of a televised music competition while maintaining their integrity as a band and as individuals? The scathing indictment of reality-show consumerism and the well developed characters carry an otherwise unexceptional plot. For all its music-scene edginess, the tale is a well-worn standard that gets lost in overplayed details and manufactured intensity. Agent: Kate Testerman, KT Literary. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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