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The French Executioner

C. C. Humphreys. Sourcebooks Landmark, $14.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-4022-7234-9

Humphreys (Jack Absolute) breathes life into 16th century Europe with this fascinating tale of adventure and mystery as Anne Boleyn's executioner must fulfill his promise to the queen who has been marked for death. Executioner Jean Rombaud didn't expect Anne Boleyn to have ask for aything from him when he was summoned to England to execute her, but when Anne requests that he bury her six-fingered hand at a sacred crossroads in France, he agrees. There are others who believe in the magical powers of that hand and will do everything in their power to keep Rombaud from getting the hand. As he journeys to the destination, he becoems a prisoner on a ship, where he makes the acquaintance of two friends who assist him in his task. Humphreys has creatively combined historical fact with mystical fiction: the severed hand seems to have a life of its own and causes irrational behavior in those seeking it. Humphreys's characters are well drawn and deeply empathetic, and Rombaud's mission remains entertaining throughout. Agent: Jessica Purdue, Orion Publishing Group. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Shopaholic to the Stars

Sophie Kinsella. Dial, $25 hardback (496p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9386-8

Kinsella brings the irrepressible Becky Bloomwood Brandon back for a seventh time (after Mini Shopaholic) in this latest installment of her hilarious Shopaholic series. Becky's public relations guru husband, Luke, has just started to represent Hollywood A-lister Sage Seymour, so Becky, Luke, and their daughter, Minnie, are off to Los Angeles where Becky's convinced it'll all be red carpets and movie-star sightings. After a personal shopping job falls through, Becky decides to become a celebrity stylist—and wants Sage to be her first client. Sage's interest level is low until Becky gets involved with Sage's rival, Lois Kellerton. In between her own dramas, Becky is forced to deal with those of others—including her father's and her best friend Suze's. And there's even an old nemesis who may have changed her ways—or not. It's impossible not to fall in love with Becky and her antics, and this latest offering doesn't disappoint. With appeal for fans of Kinsella's prior Shopaholic books, this one will draw in new fans as well. Like the first six in the series, this new entry is screamingly funny and lots of fun. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood Jr.

Ed Wood. Or Books, $18 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-939293-61-9

Best known as the director of Plan 9 from Outer Space and other cinema schlock, Wood published the 33 stories collected in this volume as filler for magazines of erotica and pornography between 1970 and 1974. None rise above the mediocrity of his moviemaking, but you wouldn't expect them to since, as Bob Blackburn writes in his introduction, Wood ground them out in desperation to put food on the table. At their best, these short tales are an index to the type of pulp fiction common to men's magazines of the era: war stories, jungle adventures, crime fiction, and horror extravaganzas usually saturated with bloody violence and heated with steamy sex. "Scream Your Bloody Head Off" follows a man going through the paces of dismembering his murdered wife's corpse and grinding it through the kitchen sink garbage disposal. "Dracula Revisited" speaks for all the book's tales of horror, its protagonist fearing "a scene which promises to be so terrifyingly heart-stopping that I might be overcome with the horror of the sight and my mind would be crushed to a point whereby my sanity could be taken from me." The tone of the selections ranges from the camp of "Missionary [Position] Impossible," in which missionaries find a "white queen" heading up a jungle tribe, to the grotesquerie of "The Gory Details" and the sexual explicitness of "The Autograph," one of several tales with a gay sex theme. Fans of Wood's work will appreciate repeat references to angora throughout the collection. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Through Dark Angles: Works Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft

Don Webb. Hippocampus (www.hippocampuspress.com), $20 trade paper (252p) ISBN 978-1-61498-084-1

Webb's collection of 24 stories and poems (nine original to the volume) evokes Lovecraft's cosmic horrors in refreshingly original and unconventional ways. "Lovecraft's Pillow" tells of a contemporary horror writer who is overwhelmed by Lovecraft's consciousness after sleeping on the pillow from his deathbed. "Rats" links the Lovecraft cosmos to the true origins of the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamlin." "The Doom That Came to Devil's Reef" is presented as a notebook found among Lovecraft's papers, purportedly kept by a model for the human/amphibian hybrid horrors of "The Shadow over Innsmouth." The best stories are mash-ups of real and imagined events that suggest malignant Lovecraftian forces at work behind the scenes. These include "The Codex," in which Lovecraft colleague Robert H. Barlow and his anthropology student, William S. Burroughs, uncover a book of occult lore that influences later tragedies in their lives; and "Slowness," in which Lovecraft's Frankenstein stand-in, Herbert West, encounters a contemporary avatar of Italian occultist Count Cagliostro. Webb (When They Came) laces many of the selections with dark humor that contributes to the pleasing unpredictability of their horrific outcomes. Though the stories abound with nudges and in-jokes for Lovecraft aficionados, readers not as familiar with Lovecraft's oeuvre will still find much to enjoy. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy

Jacopo Della Quercia. St. Martin's Griffin, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-02571-5

Steampunk fans, as well as readers who enjoy their thrillers heavily dosed with humor, will revel in this rollercoaster ride. Early on, President William Howard Taft vanquishes four opponents in the ring, solidifying his reputation as the "single greatest underground boxing champion the world would never know of." Flush with victory, Taft ascends from the covert ring to Airship One, a dirigible that serves the president as a flying sanctuary. There, his top aide, Robert Todd Lincoln, reveals that he possesses an unusual watch that is "proof that there is something in Alaska completely alien to this planet." Furthermore, this watch was in the pocket of Lincoln's father the night he was assassinated in 1865. That revelation launches Taft and Lincoln on a wild adventure that involves a killer automaton, Teddy Roosevelt's ambitions for a third term, and a dangerous mission into the New Haven Tomb of the notorious Yale secret society, Skull & Bones. Della Quercia doesn't take the over-the-top plot too seriously, but this alternate universe's internal logic is cleverly constructed. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith

Eve Tushnet. Ave Maria, $15.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-59471-542-6

Popular Catholic blogger Tushnet tries to forge a truce between the gay community and religious groups, often at war with one another, by explaining how, as a lesbian, she lives a celibate lifestyle that is consistent with official Catholic teaching about human sexuality and finds joy in doing so. The author is irreverent and has a sharp wit, making for appealing reading. Her polished writing style and humor move the autobiographical narrative along briskly. Her conversion from liberal atheist to traditional Catholic is fascinating and not overly pious. Struggling with alcoholism, she found solace in the Catholic Church, deep friendships, and faith, three themes to which she recurs. She also offers insights about faith that spiritual seekers will find helpful. While some might find the author's strict adherence to celibacy contrary to natural human desires, the message that all human beings have a vocation to love will appeal to everyone. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Pulpit and Politics: Separation of Church and State in the Black Church

Marvin A. McMickle. Judson, $22.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8170-1751-4

McMickle (Where Have All The Prophets Gone?), president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, delivers a concise if sometimes confusing analysis of the less-than-arm's length relationship of church and state in black churches. By describing his own experience as a preacher/politician, McMickle writes from the perspective of someone with intimate knowledge of the necessary components of black leadership. He explains that there is a long tradition of preacher/politicians who use "politics as a means of grace" in the black community, since there are few other paths to opportunity for African-Americans in politics than via participation in religious life. It is sometimes not clear who the audience for McMickle's argument is – some but not all of the chapters end with discussion questions potentially for use by book or classroom groups -- and there is some repetition, but he has clearly done his homework about the rules for preacher/politicians, and he describes those clearly. The end result is a solid reference book for pastors and churches in time for midterm – or other – elections. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Young Neil: The Sugar Mountain Years

Sharry Wilson. ECW Press (Legato Publishers Group; U.S. dist.; Jaguar Book Group, Canadian dist.), $18.95 trade paper (456p) ISBN 978-1-77041-186-9

Wilson's debut work chronicles the formative years of 1945 to 1966 of Toronto-born guitarist singer/songwriter Neil Young. Using first-hand accounts from Young's family and friends, she meticulously recounts Young's childhood and teen years, focusing on the people and events that influenced his musical growth. Readers meet Young's father, Scott, a journalist and author, and his mother Rassy, and get an intimate view of their rocky marriage and eventual divorce. Wilson details Young's parents' struggles to get their son to apply himself to schoolwork, which ended when he dropped out of high school to become a musician. The book examines musical influences right from Young's father, who introduced him to his first instrument (a ukulele), to the music he listened to on his transistor radio, to the bands and guitarists that he encountered. Wilson also traces Young's beginnings with various bands and the path that led him to Fort William, Ont., where he met Stephen Stills, his soon-to-be bandmate in Buffalo Springfield. Enriched with more than 100 photos, this is a book written by a true fan for true fans. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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How to Breathe Underwater: Field Reports from an Age of Radical Change

Chris Turner. Biblioasis (Consortium, U.S. dist.; PGC/Raincoast, Canadian dist.), $17.95 trade paper (301p) ISBN 978-1-927428-75-7

This collection of essays is drawn from the career of award-winning journalist and author Turner (The War on Science) from 1999 to 2012. The 15 previously published essays range in subject from online gambling companies in Antigua to the beginnings of Cyberjaya, Malaysia's version of Silicon Valley, to the inevitable death of the Great Barrier Reef to the livability of Calgary. While the essays themselves are well-written, many are now dated and no contemporary context has been added. We therefore never learn whether Antigua is still a hotspot for Internet gambling startups or whether Cyberjaya was ultimately a successful endeavor or how the Great Barrier Reef is currently faring. Still, there are a few essays that stand the test of time, including the story of Pepsi's ill-fated attempt at marketing a morning cola or Turner's take on why it is important to tip well in Cuba. It is also interesting to read the essays chronologically to note how Turner's writing style progresses and how his interests shift from the technological world to the sustainability crisis. The topical nature of some of the essays, however, leaves the collection as a whole sinking in the waters of history. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Far and Near: On Days Like These

Neil Peart. ECW Press (Legato Publishers Group; U.S. dist.; Jaguar Book Group, Canadian dist.), $29.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-77041-257-6

This introspective account details three years of the author's "life, work, and travels" across Canada, the U.S., and Europe by motorcycle, . Peart (Far and Away: A Prize Every Time) is primarily known as the drum god/lyricist extraordinaire for Canadian prog-rock institution Rush, and while Peart often references his band in this narrative (much of his motorcycling was done in between tour dates), the bulk of this book centers on the surroundings, people, and weather encountered on his travels. Peart's writing here is personable and conversational as he catalogues the sights and sounds of the motorcycling lifestyle. These include pun-laced church signs in the Bible Belt ("Jesus Paid the Price, You Keep the Change") ancient Roman ruins in Britain, mind-melting south-western desert temperatures, foliage-lined fall byways, basalt pillars in Nova Scotia, and California's giant redwoods, among other encounters. Peart frequently discusses some of the history of the regions, and each chapter is interspersed with his occasional ruminations on life, philosophy, and music. The book is also richly detailed with road and landscape photographs from Peart's journeys, most of them taken from a motorcyclist's view. This is a fine travelogue that fans and general readers alike should enjoy. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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