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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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Finders Keepers

Stephen King, read by Will Patton. S&S Audio, unabridged, 12 CDs, 13.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-8434-7

It seems only logical that King's new crime novel, which is linked to the Edgar Award–winning success of 2014's Mr. Mercedes, should reemploy the talents of that thriller's reader, Patton. Here, the actor's deceptively mellow, vaguely Southern delivery helps spin a thrilling yarn that shuffles two tales separated by 35 years. The earlier sections follow Morris Bellamy, a young sociopath so obsessed by the work of long-silent reclusive novelist John Rothstein that he kills him and steals the author's money, along with notebooks containing at least one unpublished novel. The other sections, set in the Midwest in 2010, focus on Pete Stauber, who finds the cash and notes where Morris hid them before his lengthy incarceration for another crime. Both stories converge when Morris is released from prison and arrives in town expecting to find his cache. Though the novel unfolds in third-person narration, King slants each chapter toward its featured player, and Patton adds an appropriate attitude. For example, he reads the chapters focused on Morris with a sort of grim determination laced with anger. The Pete chapters have a halting quality that reflects the teen's suspicious nature and lack of self-confidence. The chapters devoted to Drew Halliday, a crooked book dealer, are given a smarmy air of extreme self-satisfaction. The bottom line is that King has added another superb novel of suspense to his ever-increasing list, and Patton's inventive interpretations make it a must-hear audio. A Scribner hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Drunken Fireworks

Stephen King, read by Tim Sample. S&S Audio, 2 CDs, 1.5 hrs., $14.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-8964-9

This short, humorous tale, about a Fourth of July fireworks competition that gets magnificently out of hand, will not appear in print until November, when it arrives as part of King's collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. Its narrator, Alden McCausland, is a nonstop boozer who has been sipping away the summers with his similarly inebriated mom in a meager three-room cottage on Lake Abenaki. On a fateful Fourth, the McCauslands set off a few sparklers and rockets, and the Massimo family, the high-living, high-style occupants of the mansion across the lake, top that with their display, thereby initiating an ever-escalating rocket war that cannot end well. The production has the sound of a one-man theatrical performance, and its entertainment value depends as much on the one man as it does on the material. King's story, though its inevitable conclusion siphons off any suspense, is amusing enough to keep one listening, especially with Sample narrating it in the same kind of appropriate "down east" accent he used for over a decade on the "Postcards from Maine" segments on CBS News Sunday Morning. This audiobook is pretty much in the same wheelhouse as "Postcards," only drunker. And, ultimately, more explosive. (June)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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What Pet Should I Get?

Dr. Seuss. Random, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-553-52426-0

This early Dr. Seuss work, which was found after his death in 1991 and re-discovered in 2013, stars the brother and sister from One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. An extensive, informative afterword from the publisher says that Seuss often recycled story elements, and this book may have led to One Fish. Here, the narrator and his sister, Kay, have a real-world problem. They're at a pet store, and their father says they can take home only one animal: "The cat?/ Or the dog?/ The kitten?/ The pup?/ Oh, boy!/ It is something/ to make a mind up." Their imaginations soon wander in typical Seussian directions: "If we had a big tent,/ then we would be able/ to take home a yent!" (A spread shows the siblings gazing fondly out of the window at a giant, tiger-striped creature crouched under a canopy of cloth and cables.) Seuss's drawings offer plenty of offbeat surrealism (four exasperated beasts bear banners that read Make Up Your Mind), but the book also takes a sympathetic view of childhood indecision—with an appropriately indecisive ending. Ages 3–7. (July)

Reviewed on 07/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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