Fiction, April 12, 2019 | Xpress Reviews

A dark read perfect for devoted horror fans; Campbell’s fans will be thrilled; the plot will keep readers engaged; should appeal to readers of contemporary PI stories; a solid choice for fans of vampire lore; recommended for fans of action with a twist of the supernatural; Schwartz diligently assembles the pieces of a difficult life; a fun read from Stuart

Week ending April 12, 2019

Ballingrud, Nathan. Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell. Saga: Gallery. Apr. 2019. 288p. ISBN 9781534449923. $26.99; pap. ISBN 9781534449930. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781534449947. HORROR
The characters in this sextet all encounter the border between our world and the underworld. In one tale, a man seeks to be reunited with his dog after his neighborhood is taken over by otherworldly beings. In another, a diabolist journeys on a pirate ship in order to obtain an atlas of Hell. Ballingrud (North American Lake Monsters) unabashedly serves up gore and intense violence, and his ability to create horrifying imagery is top-notch. These stories are bleak and not for the squeamish or sensitive, but those readers who are accustomed to the conventions of horror will be rewarded with excellent storytelling and masterly crafted atmosphere. Ballingrud’s writing especially shines when he’s able to build suspense, such as in “The Visible Filth,” which has been optioned for a film set to release in 2019.
VERDICT A dark, intense read perfect for devoted horror fans.—Anitra Gates, Erie Cty. P.L., PA

Campbell, Jack. Triumphant. Ace: Berkley. (Genesis Fleet, Bk. 3). May 2019. 336p. ISBN 9781101988404. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781101988411. SF
In the third of the “Genesis Fleet” series (prequels to the “Lost Fleet” books), the planet of Glenlyon is once again imperiled, this time because its people helped someone else. When neighboring planet Kosatka comes under attack, Glenlyon’s forces came to its aid, led by Commander Robert Geary. But no good deed goes unpunished, and Glenlyon is now facing reprisals from the forces that went after Kosatka in the first place. So Commander Geary and his longtime cohort Mele Darcy, head of the marines, have an impossible task in saving their own people and planet. Aid seems an unlikely hope as Kosatka is still fighting the remnants of the invasion, and other planetary governments don’t want to get involved. Out of these dire circumstances, can any alliance be built? And if so, can it hold?
VERDICT Campbell (Ascendant) has a sure hand with military sf balanced with political intrigue and heroic protagonists ready to spring into action. His fans will be thrilled, and readers of John Ringo and David Weber should find a lot to like here.—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

Clare, Alys. The Woman Who Spoke to Spirits. Severn House. (World’s End Bureau Victorian Mystery, Bk. 1). Jun. 2019. 240p. ISBN 9780727888686. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9781448302062. MYS
London of the 1880s isn’t the typical setting for a female sleuth heading her own detective agency, but Lily Raynor is anything but typical. An former war nurse, Lily runs the World’s End Bureau, where her reputation for precision and discretion has created so much business for the agency that she must hire an assistant, the clever Felix Wilbraham. The bureau may have met its match, though, when Ernest Stibbins walks in the door. He wants to hire the agency to protect his clairvoyant wife, Albertina, who often communes with the dead, from a threat she feels from beyond the grave. Lily attends a séance at the Stibbinses’ home and realizes that the danger to Mrs. Stibbins is very real, and Lily may be in danger as well. Clare’s (“Hawkenlye” series) first novel in the “World’s End Bureau” series is charming and suspenseful. The author’s writing style, likable characters, and intriguing plot will draw in readers. Lily and Felix are both well-rounded, complex characters with interesting backstories. The plot is multifaceted and will keep readers engaged.
VERDICT Recommended for historical and traditional mystery lovers.—Kristen Calvert, Dallas P.L.

Head, Cheryl A. Catch Me When I’m Falling. Bywater. (Charlie Mack Motown Mystery, Bk. 3). Mar. 2019. 260p. ISBN 9781612941455. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781612941462. MYS
Head’s third entry in her “Charlie Mack Motown Mystery” series ( Bury Me When I’m Dead; Wake Me When It’s Over) finds PI firm owner Charlene “Charlie” Mack about to buy a house with girlfriend Mandy. She is distracted from her packing, however, when her mother asks her to look into the brutal murders of several homeless people in the Detroit Corridor neighborhood. Her private investigator team are all on board, even though they know they’ll be working for free. No one wants Charlie to go undercover pretending to be a street person, but that may be the best way to find out the truth. Can she and her colleagues pull it all together in time to prevent another murder?
VERDICT Head packs a ton of drama and action into this short novel, along with important developments in Charlie’s life and those of her friends and colleagues, with Detroit as much a character as the others. This novel should appeal to readers of contemporary PI stories and those interested in varied settings and diverse characters.—Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib.

Hopstaken, Steven & Melissa Prusi. Stoker’s Wilde. Flame Tree. (Fiction Without Frontiers). May 2019. 256p. ISBN 9781787581739. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781787581715. $14.95. HORROR
[DEBUT] A fun throwback to classic horror, playing off of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, this tale stars fictionalized versions of both Stoker and Wilde, brought together through circumstance to hunt the undead throughout England. After Stoker steals away Wilde’s fiancée, the two are at odds, but a number of paranormal experiences propel them back together as they work to uncover an evil plot by London’s mysterious Black Bishop involving murder, vampires, and secret portals. Written in an epistolary format, this work is reminiscent of novels published during the late 19th century. At times the story is a little difficult to follow, as the narrative jumps from character to character, and several minor protagonists make reference to the works of classic authors and historical figures.
VERDICT This husband-and-wife writing team offer a solid choice for fans of vampire lore and atmospheric, historical horror.—Sarah Stimson, Mission Viejo Lib., CA

Krause, Suzy. Valencia and Valentine. Lake Union. Jun. 2019. 254p. ISBN 9781542092968. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781542090391. F
[DEBUT] This title is about two women whose lives at first appear unrelated, but there are a few twists before the novel ends. Debut author Krause explores the inner life of Valencia, a debt collector with OCD, and what it takes to cast off fear and begin to live our dreams. Valencia works for a collection agency, and she often receives death threats on the phone, but she’s been successful at insulating herself from face-to-face human contact. Then two new employees build bridges to friendship. Valentine is an older widow living alone who is always preparing for friends and relatives of friends to visit. She’s hungry for companionship of any kind, and she loves to spin stories from her past. The chapters alternate between the two voices.
VERDICT Though this first novel is not a necessary purchase for most libraries, fans of Maria Semple’s Today Will Be Different may enjoy this quirky tale.—Cheryl Bryan, Orleans, MA

North, Claire. The Gameshouse. Orbit: Hachette. Jun. 2019. 448p. ISBN 9780316491563. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316491570. FANTASY
The eternal Gameshouse is accessible from anywhere in the world for those who know how to find it, offering contests of all kinds. The stakes are money and power and for the inner circle even life, death, memories, knowledge, and immortality. This trio of novellas follow three players across centuries: a woman playing for control of an election in 17th-century Venice, a hide-and-seek contest set across 1930s Thailand, and a present-day struggle for control of the Gameshouse itself that stretches worldwide, with people and nations becoming pawns in the players’ hands. The stakes of the three stories vary widely, from individual life-or-death to global domination, but in the first story in particular, North ( The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August) expertly melds the personal with the far-reaching. Action never lets up, and at times it even blends with philosophical questions of order and chaos.
VERDICT Recommended for fans of secret history and action with a twist of the supernatural. Readers of V.E. Schwab’s “Shades of Magic” series and Max Gladstone’s “Craft Sequence” may appreciate its realistic weirdness.—Jason Puckett, Georgia State Univ. Lib., Atlanta

Schwartz, John Burnham. The Red Daughter. Random. Apr. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9781400068463. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781984853875. F
No one wants to be known as the daughter of a dictator responsible for the deaths of millions. So in the late 1960s, Svetlana, the daughter of Joseph Stalin, finds a way to defect to America—with the secret aid of the U.S. government. Peter, a lawyer who assisted in her relocation, becomes her friend and confidant. Experiencing freedom for the first time, Svetlana makes choices leading her in a new direction that is also frighteningly familiar. Svetlana, now calling herself Lana, is lured into the Taliesin Fellowship, a cultlike world led by the widow of Frank Lloyd Wright. Along with hangers-on who admire the architect’s philosophy of aesthetics, the widow, as Lana calls her, cultivates friends who may be able to keep the fellowship financially sound. Lana soon learns that she has given up her hard-won freedom to this clandestine group. And so once again, she flees—with Peter again helping her.
VERDICT The story is told alternately by Lana and Peter, a character based on the author’s father, who in real life was the American lawyer who helped Svetlana throughout her American sojourn. Despite some uneven pacing, Schwartz diligently assembles the pieces of a difficult life and the tangled web of broken relationships that were left behind. [See Prepub Alert, 10/22/18.]—Susanne Wells, Indianapolis P.L.

Stuart, Leigh W. Mischievously Mine. City Owl. (Sycamore Cove Games, Bk. 2). May 2019. 252p. ISBN 9781949090345. pap. $13.99; ebk. ISBN 9781949090338. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Sandra Kelly is a journalist for the local television station in Sycamore Cove. Her boss is an ex who dropped her for the office receptionist. He still likes to order her around, though, and it drives her crazy. Cooper Hall is a small business owner involved in a struggle with his partner about whether they should pull up stakes. This is Cooper’s hometown, and he can’t imagine leaving his family. Cooper and Sandra have had a complicated relationship for years, starting when they were in the same summer camp and enjoyed a prank battle that continued well beyond that summer. The problem is that there is undeniable sexual tension between them. When the town decides to create a Townsperson of the Year contest, Sandra and Cooper both enter and now are not only fighting the prank war and the sexual tension but are competing for votes. Can they twist their way through the problems to find each other and happiness?
VERDICT This is a fun read from Stuart (The 12 Dares of Christmas), with both main characters very appealing. Recommended for most romance collections.—Susan T Hayes, Columbus, GA

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