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Black River

Josh Simmons. . Fantagraphics, $18.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-60699-833-5

A band of women struggles to survive a dangerous, dying world in an amazing depiction of bleakness that manipulates familiar post-apocalyptic tropes. Simmons (The Furry Trap) is no stranger to creating atmospheric horror, using dense black-and-white linework for vivid depictions of destroyed cities and people with nothing left to lose. Dead, angular trees, plain, grimy clothing, and eyes that range from burnt-out to sheer insanity mix with swirling, angry backgrounds, setting a scene better than any horror movie could. The women, who are physically and emotionally varied, literally walk through set pieces designed to show how hellish the world has become. This culminates in their capture by a male gang, and unfortunately, Simmons opts to go for the easy path of sexual violence as the traumatic capstone. Though it's handled tastefully—the worst of the situation is implied—this is an unnecessary storytelling shortcut in an otherwise brilliant story that shows where true horror lies: not in monsters, but in our own fear and desperation. (June)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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High Crimes

Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa. Dark Horse, $19.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1616554729

Following a disgraceful wipeout during competition, former Olympic snowboarder Zan Jensen makes a living as a guide on Mount Everest, with a sideline in retrieving and identifying the bodies of climbers who met their fate on the unforgiving mountain. When her elder partner unwittingly identifies the body of a long-missing and sought-after espionage operative, a clandestine group of "strange agents" is dispatched to recover the corpse and the dead spy's journal of volatile secrets, and eliminate anyone possessing knowledge of both. Utterly relentless, and unhindered by a conscience, the agents have Zan in their crosshairs, so she flees to the mountain. In this taut and riveting exercise in cinematic storytelling on the page, Sebela's tense script and Moustafa's clean, detailed art dramatize the action perfectly. This is must-read stuff that Hollywood would be advised to adapt as an alternative to the glut of superhero cinema. (July)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Gotham by Midnight, Vol. 1: We Do Not Sleep

Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith . DC Comics, $14.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-4012-5473-5

The X-Files meets Constantine inside Arkham Asylum in this offshoot from last year's Batman Eternal series. Jim Corrigan, aka the Spectre, is one of the not-quite-normal officers assigned by Commissioner Gordon to Gotham City PD's Detailed Case Task Force. The group is an off-the-books operation charged with fighting evil of a supernatural nature, including a number of child disappearances that point to sinister activities afoot in Gotham. Even Batman (who appears in cameos) can't handle this job. This collection doesn't stint on either the atmosphere or the action. The former is present in the gothic tonalities from various artists, including Templesmith, that darken every gloomy page. The latter is kicked swiftly into high gear once it becomes clear that Corrigan's Spectre side can't exactly be contained. Fawkes's careful assembly of his motley crew of misfits is slowed when they spend far too much time gaping in terror at the Lovecraftian evil exploding all around. With a more organic pace, this could develop into a worthwhile series. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Stillwater: A Jack McBride Mystery

Melissa Lenhardt. Skyhorse, $24.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-63450-226-9

Fans of romantic mysteries will appreciate Lenhardt's sentimental debut, the first in a series starring Jack McBride, a former FBI agent. Having left the Bureau under a cloud, Jack has moved to Stillwater, Tex., with his 13-year-old son, Ethan, to become the small town's police chief. On Jack's first day on the job, he must deal with the murder/suicide of a married couple. Or are the killings actually a disguised double murder? Meanwhile, Ethan suffers through his first day at school while pained from not knowing why his mother didn't also relocate to Stillwater. When Jack later flirts with Ellie Martin, the bank manager he meets about his financial arrangements, Ellie is initially alarmed, but then she flirts back, as Jack ponders how soft and silky her hair appears. Ethan's difficulties in making new friends, assorted domestic tensions between Ethan and Jack, and Jack's dogged wooing of Ellie overshadow Jack's crime-solving efforts. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Evergreen Springs

RaeAnne Thayne. HQN, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-373-78859-0

Second chances abound in Thayne's third contemporary set in small Haven Point, Id. (after Redemption Bay). Former rodeo rider and ex-con Cole Barrett is reviving the family ranch, and his two kids are learning to live with him after their mother's death. Cole also has to take care of his pregnant sister, Tricia. In the background is his resentment that his own father didn't stick around during his childhood. Family physician Devin Shaw steps into the middle of all the anger, disappointment, and tension, spreading joy and warmth everywhere she goes. Unfortunately she's just too perfect: she moonlights at the ER, teaches yoga to senior citizens, and volunteers with a charity. Even her substantial past medical troubles don't do much to humanize her. Cole is human enough for both of them, though: standoffish, slow to trust, and quick to hold a grudge. Watching him learn about forgiveness is much more satisfying than the tepid romance story line. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Long, Tall Christmas

Janet Dailey. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3509-1

Dailey's standalone contemporary western never quite hits its stride. Kylie takes her children home to the small town of Branding Iron, Tex. She hopes to repair her life, but feels helpless without a man around. When a series of poor decisions threatens to ruin Christmas for her children, only former bad boy Shane can save her. Needing rescue isn't a new theme for romance, but Kylie's errors range from bafflingly careless (burning cookies) to entirely inexcusable (browbeating her children at every opportunity). Dailey (Santa in Montana) makes Kylie so inept that it imbalances the power dynamic with Shane, who does everything right: he gave up his life to take care of his dad, helps elderly neighbors, and immediately tames Kylie's rebellious son. The compressed time line of three days around Christmas leaves this chaste romance rushing to hit an abrupt happy ending that doesn't satisfy. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Silver Wolf Christmas

Terry Spear. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0950-6

Spear's 17th Heart of the Wolf paranormal (after SEAL Wolf Hunting) sticks close to a reliable formula. Having settled in as deputy sheriff of Silver Town, Colo., CJ Silver feels safe and comfortable enough to seek a mate. Laurel MacTire and her sisters are new in town, renovating the old hotel and uncovering the town's secrets. The MacTire sisters are investigating the disappearance of a relative, and soon they turn up a series of duplicities and convolutions among the living and the dead. Though most of Silver Town's inhabitants are werewolves, all suggestions of paranormal adventure are resolved through ordinary means, robbing many moments of their haunting appeal. Spear's characters are harmless and likable, though a trifle quick-tempered, but structural problems and too much focus on mundane details slow the pace to the point of tedium. The Christmastime conclusion is endearing but predictable. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Marry Me at Christmas

Susan Mallery. HQN, $17.99 trade paperback (336p) ISBN 978-0-373-78850-7

Mallery's fun and inviting 19th novel set in Fool's Gold, Calif. (after Thrill Me) richly layers deft characterization onto a charming, interconnected community. When bridal shop owner Madeline Krug agrees to plan a wedding for a local groom and his out-of-town bride, she ends up working side by side with the bride's brother, movie star Jonny Blaze. Jonny craves solitude and loves the tiny town, but he doesn't expect to fall hard for a girl-next-door type. After Madeline gets over being starstruck, she falls in love with Jonny for himself. The only question is whether she can handle the ramifications of his fame. Series fans will love this glittering installment. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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All Wrapped Up

Kimberly Kincaid. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (344p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3771-2

Kincaid's fifth and final Pine Mountain contemporary (after Fire Me Up), set in Pennsylvania's Blue Ridge Mountains, opens with bar owner Nick Brennan running into a burning building to rescue a child. The townspeople laud him as a hero, but recognition is the last thing Nick wants. Reporter Ava Mancuso, the only woman Nick has ever loved, is assigned to get the whole story out of him, seven years after she left him to protect her own secrets. Faced with the choice of getting the hottest scoop in the area or losing her job, Ava has to convince Nick to open up to her in more ways than one. The story lacks any real surprises and borders on clichéd, but it still makes a nice little gift for the holidays. Agent: Maureen Walters, Curtis Brown Ltd. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Secrets She Kept

Cathy Gohlke. Tyndale, $14.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-4964-0080-2

In a small North Carolina mountain town in the early 1970s, Hannah Sterling struggles with questions of forgiveness after her mother's death. Taking leave from her job as a high school teacher, Hannah rummages through her emotionally distant mother's old home, only to find letters connecting her grandfather to the Nazi party. Hannah embarks on a journey through Germany to uncover the secrets of her family's past, a task her octogenarian grandfather and his close associate are only too eager to block. Told from both Hannah's viewpoint and that of her mother as a young woman, this well-researched epic depicts life under the Nazi regime with passionate attention. While the Sterling family story serves as a warning about digging into the past, it is also a touching example of the healing power of forgiveness and the rejuvenating power of faith. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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