Category: reviews Page 2 of 3

COLD WRATH

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A career criminal is shot dead at his Yorkshire estate.

Make no mistake: Miles Law knew practically from the moment he first met his employer, Anthony Garrett, that Garrett was a criminal. It takes one to know one, Law explains to DCI George Hennessey (A Dreadful Past, 2016, etc.), admitting that his younger days were marked by petty theft and low-level cons. Garrett strikes Law as a more sophisticated operator, so in a strange way, the gardener is shocked to discover his employer in his armchair with a bullet hole in his forehead, but not exactly surprised. Hennessey and his team aren’t really surprised either once they read Garrett’s history with (and against) the law, although their curiosity is piqued when the Metropolitan Police send a detective constable all the way up from London to photograph a tattoo on the dead man’s arm. But there’s no evidence that Garrett, an East Ender by birth, ever returned to London after his release from Full Sutton, a prison outside York. Instead he retired to The Grange, an isolated country house typically entered by no one except a squad of cleaners from The Maids—not even Law, until, spooked by an open ground-floor window, he goes inside and finds Garrett’s body. So the report from neighbor Linda Holyman of a visit by three identically dressed women the weekend before Law’s grisly discovery tips Hennessey’s investigation on its ear. The uncanniness of the women’s visit in the face of Garrett’s austere, predictable household habits presents a puzzle as offbeat as it is inexplicable.

Turnbull offers a conventional procedural with a twist that should leave readers eager for more.

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

DEAD HEAT

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Champion jump jockey Harry Radcliffe’s fourth time around the track can’t quite disentangle itself from echoes of his first three (Dead Reckoning, 2017, etc.).

Any illusions Harry had that horsebox driver John Dunston committed suicide are dashed by a letter Dunston’s solicitor, Philip Caxton, portentously delivers to him in which Dunston announces that he expects to be murdered just like Frank, the son who was killed in prison, and that he’s left a parcel with Caxton containing “the only bit of proof,” which he invites Harry to pick up. Harry has five races the next day, but he arranges a rush trip to the solicitor’s office in York to take possession of a sealed package the size of a shoebox. Instead of opening it, however, he hides it in a bag of cat litter, runs off to answer his estranged wife Annabel’s plea to surrender the letter to an anonymous caller who threatens violence to her lover, Sir Jeffrey, meets the caller in an inconclusive standoff, rides so successfully for Lady Willamina Branshawe that he unseats her resentful regular jockey, Duncan Rawlson, accepts an invitation to bring along his girlfriend, flower shop owner Georgia, to join Lady Branshawe and her friend trainer Tally Hunter on her private plane to St. Moritz to take in some skijoring, and learns how much the depths of his continuing attachment to Annabel put Georgia off. When Harry finally does get around to opening that parcel (remember?), its contents, far from solving the mystery, merely set him on a new round of inquiries. Not to worry, because, as Annabel assures him, Harry’s hunches are so accurate that they make him a much better detective than Ian Rankin’s Inspector John Rebus. As if.

The racing sequences are excellent, the mystery-mongering tangled, the endless aftershocks of the hero’s earlier cases best born with fortitude and a stiff upper lip.

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

FIERCE PRETTY THINGS

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The stories in Howard’s debut collection blend raw emotions with surreal forays into the supernatural and metaphysical.

These stories encompass a host of topics, from the vagaries of memory to cycles of violence to the process of grieving. Plenty of their elements are harrowing enough on their own, including a man losing ground to dementia (“Scarecrows”) and a student shooting and killing his classmate (“Bandana”). But Howard opts to take many of these stories in a surreal direction: The murdered child in “Bandana,” for example, remains on Earth to act as his murderer’s adviser and “spirit guardian.” It adds an element of the absurd to the proceedings, but the spectral narrator’s relative detachment ends up making things even more horrific rather than less so. “Scarecrows” is structured so that the reader begins to understand things even as the ailing protagonist, Dixon, does, aided in part by notes he’s left himself in his more lucid moments. He’s trying to understand strange visions he’s been having of the past but also why he shouldn’t tell his wife, who’s become his caretaker. There’s a dreamlike quality to this story, along with several others—notably “Grandfather Vampire,” which has a Ray Bradbury–esque blend of pastoral and uncanny. The title character’s nickname was coined by a friend of the narrator’s, noting that he “looked like a vampire who’d stepped into the sunlight a million years ago and got bleached white as bone.” The narrator and his friend end up watching a series of movies about a reanimated boy who ages over the course of several films and turns out to have a connection to their lives.

Howard’s fiction follows an unexpected logic, but at its best it achieves a deep emotional resonance.

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

ROMEO EXPLORES THE GARDEN

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Riddles give hints about a dog’s life in an idyllic garden.

The lessons begin on the first page with unnecessary instruction on how to use the book. Romeo is an anthropomorphic orange mutt with a white snout, expressive green eyes, and boundless curiosity. On each spread Romeo asks a question, set in clean, sans-serif type, about something found in a garden. For example: “In the garden, what has a trunk, branches, and many leaves?” A page turn reveals the answer—“A tree”—in a larger font on the upper left. The cheery art with multiple scenes per page has a retro feel, no doubt due to the fact that French illustrator Grée’s heyday was in the 1960s and ’70s; these images have been repurposed from earlier books. Details in the pictures, which feature Romeo, a multiracial cast of children, and various bugs, animals, butterflies, and birds, add more information. Romeo’s costume changes frequently. On the page about bees, he is wearing a beekeeper’s veil; he wears a striped sunsuit on the tree and wheelbarrow pages and, oddly, what looks like a motorcycle helmet on the page about rain. The formal, pedantic text of this British import sounds stilted: “Which prickly animals that sleep curled up might you see in the garden?” The answer, a hedgehog, will likely puzzle readers in the U.S., where hedgehogs live in zoos, not the backyard.

These explorations are limited. (Board book. 2-4)

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

KING & KAYLA AND THE CASE OF FOUND FRED

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Smart dog King and his human, Kayla, help a lost dog find his people.

King and Kayla work together to solve mysteries, with King narrating their tales in his distinctive voice. The two are on vacation at Grandma’s house near a lake, and King discovers a new friend in the bushes. King soon learns that Fred lost his humans during the firecrackers “five or one nights ago.” His collar is lost, but Kayla guesses from his behavior that he is not a stray. Since Kayla can’t understand “a word Fred says,” King is the one to collect clues. He learns that Fred’s family is staying at a campground, but he can’t add this to Kayla’s “list of things we know.” He can’t add the campground’s location to Kayla’s “list of things we don’t know.” While Kayla tries to devise a plan, King tries to communicate his—find the campground! The humans don’t understand, but luckily, Kayla asks Grandma if they can ride on the lake and ask other boaters. From the water, Fred sees the campground, and he eagerly jumps, swims, and reunites with his people. Simple, clean, line-drawn and digitally colored illustrations depict happy, lovable animals and a diverse cast of humans. Kayla and Grandma are black, and Fred’s family is brown.

This fast-paced mystery is a fun addition to this series for new readers. (Early reader. 5-8)

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

THE FINAL WARS BEGIN

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In this debut sci-fi novel, a military officer wanted for murder in the early 23rd century tries to prevent a war between human colonies.

Lt. Gen. Bastien Lyons is hiding in New Paris, the human colony on post-World War III Earth. After defying an order that would have resulted in the deaths of innocents, Bastien resisted arrest and killed five men in self-defense. But the individuals who finally capture him don’t take him to the Martian colony, Port Sydney, where his superior, Gen. Crone, awaits. Bastien instead is the prisoner of New Paris’ Queen Marie Dubois. She attained her royal title by killing her father, and now Marie wants to use Bastien to assassinate her elusive sister, Belle, the throne’s rightful heir. Not handing over Bastien—a wanted criminal—to Crone violates the colonies’ treaty, which also includes Nippon One on Earth’s moon. The breach could ignite a war with Port Sydney, which is exactly what Marie wants. When Belle gets wind of her potential assassin, she intends to turn Bastien against Marie, primarily to maintain peace between the colonies. But Cube, a humanoid robot Crone sends to hunt Bastien, is a 7-foot-tall snag in everyone’s plans, and war may be unavoidable. In this first installment of a trilogy, Asthana deftly manages multiple characters in a sci-fi-flavored espionage story. Motivations, for example, make sense, particularly the reasons both sisters use Bastien rather than simply attacking each other. Alternating perspectives showcase superb characters, with Marie and Cube as standouts. Cube attempts to comprehend human feelings through music while its own emotions appear as data files (“>EMOTION = frustration.dat”). Marie is a metal-tentacled cyborg who, in her opening scene, kills and cannibalizes her lover. Although this book is a quick read, the author packs the narrative with plot developments: shifting alliances, shocking deaths, and scenes unfolding on all three colonies. At least one of those deaths is disappointing, but that won’t likely dampen readers’ expectations for the sequel.

Extraordinary characters steer a taut, rousing futuristic tale.

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

SHE SPOKE

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Introductions to 14 women activists, with an audio feature that allows readers to literally hear what they had to say.

The roster opens with Mary McLeod Bethune, speaking of bridges and “brotherhood” in 1955. It goes on to pay respects to a mix of eminent role models (all but three still living), from Maya Angelou and Jane Goodall to Nobel Peace Prize winners Leymah Gbowee and Malala Yousafzai, disabled veteran and recently elected senator Tammy Duckworth, and Native rights activist Suzan Shown Harjo, a founding “director” (actually, trustee) of the National Museum of the American Indian. Each single-spread entry includes a career overview, a stylized but recognizable full-page painted portrait, provocative questions addressed to readers (“What skill do you have that you could teach the people around you?” “Do you think you have an obligation to help those who need it?”), and a transcription of the accompanying sound clip. The last is helpful, as the clips, which are taken from speeches or interviews, run from around 15 to 30 seconds each, and are keyed from a side-mounted touch pad, vary in clarity. The words are all inspirational, and so are the stories. Better still, as examples for budding activists, along with the predictable recitations of jobs, honors, and successes, the overviews often acknowledge failures, cannily characterizing them as first steps or as means to some greater end.

A chorus of voices for justice and change, diverse alike of identity and cause. (further reading) (Novelty/biography. 8-12)

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

ON THE MOUNTAIN

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Five types of North American animals pop up over alpine slopes and meadows.

In big, centered pop-ups that really elevate as each spread opens, a pair of wolf cubs races toward viewers, a rainbow trout gapes, a bighorn sheep lowers his head ominously, two roly-poly black bear cubs tumble, and a bald eagle soars. In the backgrounds, which, like the animal stars, are done in a cut-paper–collage style, triangular trees, bright wildflowers, and lush green grasses perch decoratively on rocky hillsides or wave sinuously in the flowing water. Walden adds bland but bouncy rhymes (“As the sun soars in the sky, / Two bumbling, tumbling bears roll by”) and, in smaller type, a few bits of natural history about each creature or about mountains in general: “The highest point of a mountain is the summit or the peak.” The co-published Across the Savannah features the same approach and the same sort of large figures (all African, notwithstanding an observation that savannahs are found on four continents), including a toothily grimacing hippo, towering giraffes, and a quartet of alert meerkats. Both galleries conclude with a final, peaceable-kingdom–style gathering.

Pleasant visits to wild habitats for the Oshkosh set. (Informational novelty. 3-6)

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

A KISS FOR YOU

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Sturdy flaps shaped like baby animals simulate hugs or cuddles when opened.

Pages are double thick to accommodate the nested die-cut flaps, which are the thickness of an ordinary board-book page. On the first three double-page spreads, a grown-up animal is on the verso, and when the flap on the recto is swung to the left, the baby critter closes in for a nuzzle. Little Bear “runs” for a kiss, Little Elephant goes “trunk-to-trunk” with their parent, and Little Bunny leaps over for a “special” public display of affection. The final two dyads break this pattern and show Little Owl in a nest as an adult owl swings their wing across the gutter for a snuggle, and Little Bear, appearing for second time, gets a full embrace as arms fold in for a hug. The text mostly consists of gently rhyming quatrains, the final line appearing only after the flap is opened. The direct address of adult to child allows for universality, as the larger animals could be stand-ins for parents of any gender, other relatives, and a variety of caregivers. Barker uses a muted palette, flat swaths of color without outline, and delicately patterned backgrounds to illustrate the sweet scenes.

A sentimental lap-read and a durable lift-the-flap novelty book all in one. (Novelty/board book. 6 mos.-3)

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

STEVE, TERROR OF THE SEAS

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When Steve the fish swims up, all the other denizens of the sea dart off at top speed. How come?

“Finding love has been a challenge,” Steve admits, but otherwise he doesn’t mind that smaller fish, bigger fish, even jellyfish and octopuses—not to mention human swimmers—retreat in terror at the sight of him. Depicted as a relatively diminutive blue-and-white–striped fish with mild-mannered pop-eyes, Steve is (or at least pretends to be) mildly puzzled, as compared to pufferfish, viperfish, and other toothier, spikier, or rather ugly denizens of the deep (“let’s not forget the BLOBFISH”), he’s not really very scary looking. For readers who aren’t all that up on marine biology Brewis inserts big fins or elongated stretches of gray along the edges of her cartoon illustrations…culminating at last in Steve’s introduction of his best friend, George, a humongous, spread-filling, blue and gray shark who disingenuously chortles, “Hey, Steve, don’t scare the fishies!” A brief “True Part” follows, revealing that Steve is a pilot fish, expanding on the “mutualistic relationship” between pilot fish and sharks and explaining, probably gratuitously, that “pilot fish are not really scary at all.” The illustrations are unsurprisingly dominated by washes of blue, translucent layers of darker blue, yellow, green, and the occasional red delineating other ocean animals.

The joke’s delivery is a touch labored, but who would argue that there are benefits to having large, toothy friends on tap? (Picture book. 6-8)

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

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