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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

ROUGH MUSIC

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A coroner with a philosophical bent and a physician with advanced views face some vexing 18th-century puzzles.

As everyone around him in 1744 Lancashire worries about a possible new uprising in Scotland, County Coroner Titus Cragg can think only of protecting his baby from an outbreak of paralyzing fever. Upon the suggestion of his friend and colleague Dr. Luke Fidelis, he, his wife, Elizabeth, and baby Hector move to the village of Accrington, deep in the country and rarely visited by outsiders. They rent a small Dower House from Squire Thomas Turvey, a widower who lives with his invalid daughter, Thomasina, and is obsessed with bees. Their reception by the townsfolk is strangely cold until they learn of a recent incident in which shrewish Mrs. Gargrave drowned in a mud puddle after her rough treatment by a local mob re-enacting an ancient ritual. Cragg arranges an inquest and sends for Fidelis to view the body. Many joined in, but the event seemed to be instigated by Harry Hawk, who returned from his army service with his face so disfigured that Mrs. Gargrave suggested he was an imposter even though his wife accepted him. The bucolic village is far from peaceful. Turvey, who’s fired Hawk as his assistant beekeeper, is quarreling with Mr. Horntree of Hatchfly Hall over a swarm of bees. Cragg and Fidelis find Horntree’s beautiful and unhappy wife at the estate gatehouse, ill and possibly injured, before they’re thrown out by her wrathful husband. The jury in the Gargrave case fights verbally and then physically before tendering a verdict of death by cause unknown. After Mrs. Horntree runs away and seeks help from Cragg and Fidelis but is taken in by Turvey, Cragg, acting as a referee for a violent annual contest, finds that Mrs. Horntree is not the lady she appears.

Blake's (Skin and Bone, 2016, etc.) highly original mystery with a masterly denouement is made all the more absorbing by the skillfully wrought historical background.

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

FAMILY TERROR NETWORKS

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An analysis of family-centered terrorist cells, including a model to help detect and prevent their formation.

Alexander (Law Enforcement and Justice Administration/Western Illinois Univ.; The Islamic State, 2015, etc.) contends that scholars and analysts have generally neglected the rise of the family terror network, but he believes that it “merits a distinct framework by which to assess it.” The author meticulously offers illustrative examples to limn the conditions that lead to the formation of such cells and to discuss the advantages that they have over other types of terrorist groups. The tight bonds among family members, he points out, make it easy for ideological conversion to spread among them and less likely they will turn on one another. The cultural legitimacy of the family unit also makes it harder to uncover them as cells, he notes. As a result, families have the potential to be transformed into “incubators for radicalism” due to such factors as economic or religious marginalization, a sense of victimization, or “mental health challenges.” Alexander painstakingly discusses different kinds of family terror networks, the ways in which they’re recruited, and the types of plots in which they’re likely to be involved. He devises a predictive model that draws upon his analysis of more than 100 case studies and offers a lucid, broad synopsis of terrorism generally and of law enforcement responses to it. Alexander is the director of the Homeland Security Research Program at Western Illinois University, where he’s also a professor of law enforcement and justice administration, so his credentials as an expert are impeccable, and his research, as presented in this book, is rigorous. At the very least, he makes a compelling case that family terror networks pose a worrisome risk and that it’s a phenomenon that’s specific enough to warrant its own mode of analysis, set apart from other types of terrorism studies. But although his book presents a complex and thorough analysis, his predictive model is far too broadly conceived to be very useful because, as the author himself admits, it can’t capture all of the “multidimensional” possible reasons for family-unit radicalization.

A timely assessment of a burgeoning terror problem.

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews

SASHA AND PUCK AND THE POTION OF LUCK

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The daughter of an apothecary with a sideline in iffy potions tries to use both science and sleuthing to keep her father out of trouble.

Sure (fairly sure) that the luck potion her father sells to recently arrived chocolatier Letty Kozlow is bogus, young Sasha sets out to help it along—using her detective skills to determine which of three potential beaus would make the best match for the kindly but secretive shop owner. Along the way she picks up an odd, grubby, cherubic sidekick she dubs Puck and runs into several village residents ranging from mean rich girl Sisal to aptly named Granny Yenta and her (supposedly) magic rooster. This series opener being a setup episode, Nayeri makes Sasha’s snooping and clue gathering a vehicle for introducing an ensemble with some characters, notably Puck and probably Ms. Kozlow, likely more than they seem. The world beyond the otherwise unnamed Village and a larger storyline (Sasha’s mom is currently away battling the evil Order of Disorder) are merely sketched out now but are sure to come into play later on. For now, though, the focus is localized to, considering the names, clothes, and a reference to rusalkas, a vaguely Slavic setting. In keeping with the cast’s array of types, the wide-eyed, olive-skinned figures in Mak’s frequent illustrations have a Disney-esque look.

An engaging kickoff well-stocked with vivid characters, yummy chocolates, and tantalizing hints of magic. (map) (Fantasy. 9-11)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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