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Starlight

Mark Millar and Goran Parlov . Image, $14.99 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-63215-017-2

Duke McQueen had a great adventure on the alien world called Tantalus, but no one believes him, not even his own kids. Years later, he gets the chance to relive his greatest moments when Tantalus requires his help again. The story's inspirations are obvious—from Flash Gordon to Adam Strange, classic tales of heroic white men as saviors to alien planets—but it gives that scenario a modern context. Millar (Kick-Ass, Wanted) opts to explore this classic protagonist's expansion into the roles of good husband and father, and makes these qualities inseparable from those of the intergalactic hero. It's a gentle approach that allows an examination of mortality and love, but the backdrop for the adventure suffers. The world-building is weak, which is too bad, because it would be enlightening to give the antiquated view of alien worlds the same sentimental analysis as the hero of the piece gets. Parlov's art is champing at the bit for that sort of detail, but it never functions as much more than exotic window dressing, alluding to what the story doesn't offer. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Abyss Beyond Dreams

Peter F. Hamilton . Del Rey, $30 (640p) ISBN 978-0-345-54719-4

In this opener to a two-book series, Hamilton delivers a gripping, inventive chapter in his Commonwealth saga. In the year 3326 (just over 200 years before the events of The Dreaming Void), Commonwealth co-founder Nigel Sheldon, a major presence with a minor role in previous books, travels into the enigmatic, galaxy-consuming universe-within-a-universe known as the Void. He inadvertently lands on the planet Bienvenido, where an unambiguously Marxist revolution is on the verge of erupting. Bienvenido is a vigorously rendered world of limited technology, ruled by an entrenched and corrupt aristocracy. Its human inhabitants use telepathy and telekinesis as easily as words, and they live in constant fear of the Fallers, another species trapped within the Void. While discovering how both humans and Fallers came to be within the Void, Nigel manipulates Slvasta, the passionate young idealist leading the revolution, to gain the power necessary to destroy it. Hamilton deftly manages the huge cast while gradually unveiling revelations; his mastery of his intricately constructed Commonwealth universe is mesmerizing. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Saving Justice

Susan Crawford. Redbud (redbudpress.com), $7.99 trade paper (220p) ISBN 978-1-942265-02-3

Sweet, faith-filled romance dominates Crawford's debut novel, though the effect is somewhat blunted by a heavy-handed social justice agenda. Kinley Reid has chosen to honor her brother Eli's memory through her work as a teacher in one of Oklahoma City's poorest neighborhoods. It's a job she enjoys until Justice, one of her students, runs afoul of Nash McGuire, a successful commercial real estate broker. Nash has his own demons—many of them centered on the very neighborhood Justice lives in, the one Nash escaped. Yet Nash can't help but to fall prey to Kinley's smile and her obvious devotion to her students. Neither of them expects the surprising attraction that quickly blossoms between them—and neither is sure that attraction will be enough to overcome the tribulations in store for them. The stark conditions of Justice's life and neighborhood are sharply contrasted with those of his idealistic young teacher and the well-to-do Nash. The plethora of stereotypes and absence of subtlety almost overpower what is otherwise a tender tale. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Like a Love Song

Camille Eide. Ashberry Lane (ashberrylane.com), $13.99 trade paper (306p) ISBN 978-1-941720-06-6

Eide (Like There's No Tomorrow) crafts a sweet but uneven contemporary love story that rises above its stale title. Susan Quinn runs a group home for foster teenagers that is chronically short of money but has no lack of love and concern. She reluctantly hires Joe Paterson, an oil rig crew boss between jobs, as a handyman for state-required upgrades. Joe and Sue are both products of foster care gone wrong, which gives them a history of heartache but also strong motivation to do things right for the teens at Sue's home. Their similar experiences draw them together slowly while also threatening their budding relationship. Eide writes great dialogue that nicely paces the narrative, but the characterizations are problematic: can Joe really be that close to a Prince Charming type? The antagonists in the plot are too much caricature, a real weakness. This clean romance depends on specifically Christian elements that will please readers of that subgenre. Despite some heavy-handedness in her craft, Eide bears watching as a storyteller. Agent: Rachelle Gardner, Books & Such Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Taken

Dee Henderson. Bethany House, $22.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-7642-1408-0

Henderson goes back to the well of abduction (after Unspoken, which dealt with similar themes) in this suspenseful tale centered on Shannon Bliss, a woman missing for almost a dozen years, whose escape and emotional recovery both bring about justice and uncover deep family secrets. In her quest to return to her family and normal life, Bliss seeks help from retired cop Matthew Dane, whose own daughter had been kidnapped and returned alive. Dane uses his law enforcement network to provide help; his faith and experience allow him to provide a listening ear as Shannon discloses her story, piece by suspenseful piece. Christian faith plays a big background role in the story, as do characters from Unspoken. Henderson is a master of dialogue and pacing; the story comes out in addictive dribbles of information. There's something off, though, about romantic tension between Dane and Bliss. Dane is older by 13 years, and parallels between Bliss and Dane's daughter skew his motivation in a creepy paternal way. That's unlikely to bother fans of Henderson, whose suspense element is strong. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Ticket

Debra Coleman Jeter. Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas/Firefly Southern Fiction (lighthousepublishingofthecarolinas.com), $13.95 trade paper (210p) ISBN 978-1-941103-86-9

Jeter's coming-of-age novel considers the problems that might follow a sudden windfall. In Paradise, Ky., in 1975, the father of 14-year-old Tray Dunaway wins the lottery, and the poor family could certainly use the money. Tray's mom is emotionally damaged, and Tray's grandmother is the emotional rock of the family, making clothes for the intensely self-conscious adolescent and teaching her to make do in all circumstances. The smell of easy money brings people out of the woodwork, including Pee Wee Johnson, who bought the ticket for Tray's dad as a thank-you for a car ride, and teens suddenly interested in befriending Tray. The collision of motivations and characters produces a tragedy. Jeter's use of Tray's first-person perspective presents a narrative challenge, given the complex characters. The story is jumpy as it unwinds; the winning ticket, the amount of which is never specified, is not introduced until a quarter of the way into the book. Better editing would have made this a more emotionally authentic tale. Agent: Leslie Stobbe, Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Arc of the Swallow

Sissel-Jo Gazan, trans. from the Danish by Charlotte Barslund. Quercus, $26.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-62365-412-2

Gazan's excellent sequel to 2013's The Dinosaur Feather draws the reader into the fiercely competitive, high-stakes world of medical research. Deputy Chief Supt. Søren Marhauge is supervising Henrik Tejsner, who was promoted to Søren's previous job and wants desperately to outshine Søren's achievements, when a case of apparent suicide is reported. Kristian Storm, the decedent, was a brilliant scientist, a professor of immunology at the University of Copenhagen. Revered by some, reviled by others, he was gathering data on West African subjects and apparently about to prove that the DPT vaccine in current use actually causes more deaths than it prevents. The police assume that Kristian killed himself because he had been anonymously reported to the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty for fraudulent analysis of the study's statistics. Although Søren resigns from his job because he's fed up with routine police work, including supervising Henrik, he nevertheless continues to investigate on his own, discovering that the case is much more than a simple suicide. Gazan skillfully introduces characters and cleverly resolves side stories as the action builds to a thrilling denouement. Agent: Karin Lindgren, Salomonsson Agency (Sweden).)(Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Memory Man

David Baldacci. Grand Central, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4555-5982-4

This strong first in a new thriller series from bestseller Baldacci (The Escape) introduces Amos Decker, the memory man, whose unique abilities are the result of a vicious hit he suffered as a 22-year-old NFL rookie that ended his football career. The injury induced hyperthymesia and synesthesia in Decker—he forgets nothing, and he “counts in colors and sees time as pictures in [his] head." Years later, the murders of his wife and daughter left him too grief-stricken to continue working as a cop in what may be Burlington, Vt. At age 42, the grossly overweight Decker is barely scratching out a living as a PI. The arrest of Sebastian Leopold for the slaughter of his family and a mass shooting at a local high school combine to put an unwilling Decker back into the game with temporary credentials as a policeman. Rusty but still brilliant, he rejoins his former partner, detective Mary Lancaster, in investigating both cases. A startling discovery links the school killings and those of his family. Baldacci supplies a multitude of clever touches as his wounded bear of a detective takes on a most ingenious enemy. Agent: Aaron Priest, Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Dig

Cynan Jones. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-56689-393-0

Welsh writer Jones's brutal, lyrical, slim novel centers on two men—widowed sheep farmer Daniel and an illicit badger baiter known only as “the big man"—living in present-day rural Wales. Spare in its plotting, the story follows both men as their paths gradually converge. While Daniel navigates the ordeals of “lambing season" as the reality of his wife's death (by an accidental horse kick) settles in, the big man attempts to stave off the police while searching for the location of his next dig (badgers are captured from underground tunnels). He eventually lands on a section of Daniel's property. While the action of the story is compelling, the real pleasures lie in Jones's language and meditations on grief. In prose that calls to mind both the severity of Cormac McCarthy and the psychological lucidity of John Updike, Jones explores the intricacies of Daniel's mourning (“He seemed to know the offer of sympathy would be like a gate he'd go crashing through"), as well as the strangeness of time—not “a thing you live within, but... an element you grow alien to when you become aware of it." The focus on the criminal underbelly of agrarian culture poses a refreshing counterpoint to back-to-the-land idealism. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Portrait of a Man Known as Il Condottiere

George Perec, trans. from the French by David Bellos. Univ. of Chicago, $20 (144p) ISBN 978-0-226-05425-4

In this absurdist thriller by the late Perec (Life: A User's Manual), written in 1960, an art forger finds himself on the run and in an existential quandary after his attempt to produce a Renaissance masterpiece goes south. The story begins just after counterfeiter Gaspard Winckler murders his dealer, Anatole Madera. Winckler is trapped in his subterranean studio with one of Madera's thugs guarding the only exit. Via stream-of-consciousness recollections, the painter explains how he got himself into this predicament. Tasked by Madera with forging a “top-of-the-range Renaissance piece," Winckler set out to create a new masterwork by Antonello da Messina, whose 1475 portrait of a mercenary gives this early Perec manuscript its title. But Winckler viewed the result as a failure (“This was not an artist grasping the world and his own self in a single glance; it was the somewhat haphazard and decidedly murky back-and-forth of a constructed ambiguity... where the artist was just a minor demon of truth made uncertain"), and for reasons that remain unclear, he slashed Madera's throat. Winckler eventually escapes the studio and recounts his tale to a friend. Perec's first novel bears traces of the experimentalism that the French author was later known for, sliding between first-, second-, and third-person narration (with occasional forays into Nouveau Roman–esque no-person narration). The premise is interesting enough, but this resurrected trunk novel will primarily appeal to diehard Perec fans. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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