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THE PECULIARITIES

A colorful read with some rough edges but entertaining throughout.

In 1899 London, the scion of a banking family abandons his wastrel life for a lowly job with the firm that draws him deep into supernatural oddities.

Busy, busy, busy. First there’s Liss, who's known for his historical mysteries but who has also written middle-grade science fiction and Marvel stories—14 full-length novels since 2000, plus short fiction and comic books. Then there’s his latest, a historical fantasy that combines the worlds of high finance and occultism, specifically the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and aberrations such as lycanthropes, ghostly slashers called Elegants,  and women giving birth to rabbits. The hero is Thomas Thresher, age 23, who has been doing little beyond gambling and whoring when he’s forced to take a junior clerk’s post with the family bank and get engaged to the daughter of a Jewish businessman (Liss expends an unpleasant amount of ink reflecting period-appropriate antisemitism). With the proposed nuptials and the bank’s problems in mind, Thomas stumbles on puzzling purchases of debts and London buildings. His investigations lead him to a Golden Dawn gathering, which includes William Butler Yeats, Bram Stoker, and Arthur Conan Doyle. He also meets Aleister Crowley, who becomes an ally, as well as a woman who has turned wolflike, while Thomas himself has green leaves growing on him. Many such Peculiars have appeared in London recently, along with a thick fog that has nasty tendrils, all of it tied perhaps to real estate and mystical portals. There are signs of haste in the writing, and Thomas’ frequent bouts of self-doubt slow the pace, but Liss tells his story well, with some nice Dickensian surprises. What’s most fun is when he snaps off a comic line that plays on the absurdities involved: “Yes, he is becoming a plant, but he comes from an excellent family.”

A colorful read with some rough edges but entertaining throughout.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-61696-358-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Tachyon

Review Posted Online: July 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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FOURTH WING

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

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