viciousWhat’s a superhero story without any superheroes look like? V.E. Schwab runs with — sprints past, leaps high into the air over, does a complicated series of tumbles around, throws shuriken and spits flames at — that premise in the dark and utterly entertaining VICIOUS.

Or maybe the premise is more devious yet. As the protagonist Victor (who may just be the lesser of two evils) suggests, the ExtraOrdinaries (or EOs) who gain superpowers “were damaged, to say the least. But these words people throw around—humans, monsters, heroes, villains— … it was all just a matter of semantics. Someone could call themselves a hero and still walk around killing dozens.”

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The Eyes of Lira Kazan

eyeslirakazanI was really pleasantly surprised by Eva Joly and Judith Perrignon’s THE EYES OF LIRA KAZAN, a ripping good thriller that winds its way from the brutal soil of Nigeria to the financial capital world of London through the sunny skies of the Faroe Islands.

Joly was an anti-corruption prosecuting judge in France and ran as the Green Party candidate in the 2012 French presidential election, while Perrignon is a former journalist and well-respected author. Her skills coupled with Joly’s personal experience and background make for an exciting, fast-paced tale of large-scale financial fraud and the brave but beleaguered souls who attempt to expose the crimes.

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American International Pictures: The Golden Years

AIPgoldenyearsGary A. Smith’s AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES: THE GOLDEN YEARS is not a history of the legendary B-movie studio. He already wrote that book with THE AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES VIDEO GUIDE. While that 2009 tome was published by McFarland & Company, this 2013 Bear Manor Media release can be treated as a companion.

Just bear in mind exactly what the book is: a more-or-less chronological collection of press releases, industry articles, film reviews and other ephemeral material covering AIP’s glory days, which is to say practically its entire existence, roughly from Roger Corman’s THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS to John Hough’s THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE.

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Tomorrow City

tomorrowcityFormer freelance journalist and current film professor Kirk Kjeldsen’s TOMORROW CITY has a lot going for it as a first novel. It’s focused, slim (just under 200 pages) and blissfully free of most of the pretentious self-indulgences that plague many debuts.
After finishing a prison sentence, Brendan Lavin has made an honest and mildly successful living running a small bakery in New York City. But when money suddenly becomes tight and his suppliers no longer trust him, he agrees to take part in an armored car robbery with some of his ex-con friends.

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It Came from 1957: A Critical Guide to the Year’s Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films

itcamefrom1957It’s not as if 1957 was a banner year for genre movies, but that hasn’t stopped Rob Craig from dedicating an entire book to the 57 such flicks that invaded theaters over those 12 months — 11, really, as January stood barren. The result is IT CAME FROM 1957: A CRITICAL GUIDE TO THE YEAR’S SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY AND HORROR FILMS, a McFarland & Company release in trade paperback.

Craig takes a chronological tour down memory lane, reviewing such B-level works as TOBOR THE GREAT, THE BLACK SCORPION and THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, whose poster imagery provides the cover art. On a rare occasion, there’s even a bona fide classic, with arguably none greater than THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN or THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD.

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The Invisible Code

invisiblecodeWhen does the return of two old codgers promise hours of joy? When said codgers are Arthur Bryant and John May, the lead detectives of Christopher Fowler’s inventive, unique and altogether wonderful Peculiar Crimes Unit mystery series. THE INVISIBLE CODE, the 10th and latest of the British series to find its way to this side of the pond, presents the two elderly sleuths with their most baffling and dangerous case to date.
A woman is found dead inside a London church. The death has no apparent cause, so Bryant and May naturally assume the case will come to them and their fellow investigators in the Peculiar Crime Unit (PCU), that little-known but amazingly effective branch of British law enforcement that handles crimes far off the beaten path.

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3 Books Perfect for Last-Minute Christmas Gifts

bigbookxmasmysteriesTHE BIG BOOK OF CHRISTMAS MYSTERIES edited by Otto Penzler — About every year or so, master anthologist Otto Penzler issues a definitive collection on a specialized topic for Vintage Crime/Black Lizard’s series of Yellow Pages-thick trade paperbacks. He’s done pulp, BLACK MASK pulp, zombies, vampires, ghosts, adventure stories — all worth owning and treasuring — and now holiday-themed whodunits: 60 in all wrapped within 672 pages. Each one has redefined the term “embarrassment of riches,” and CHRISTMAS MYSTERIES continues that tradition, with an astounding and outstanding lineup of talents: Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Donald E. Westlake, Ed McBain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and on and on. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, no matter what time of year.

85yearsoscar85 YEARS OF THE OSCAR: THE OFFICIAL HISTORY OF THE ACADEMY AWARDS by Robert Osborne — Updated every five years, this authorized guide to the grandaddy awards show of them all is hefty in two ways: in weight (nearly 7 pounds, so don’t expect to read it while prone on the couch) and in info. As large and in-charge as the personalities within its high-gloss pages, Osborne’s coffee-table tome preserves for posterity each year’s Oscar race in breezy chapters that close with a complete list of nominations. Prodigiously illustrated with photos, the book dishes out even more facts and figures with appendices on the televised show itself and a roundup of trivia surrounding the gold-guy statuette. It’s not cheap, but for Academy Award freaks, it’s indispensable … until the 2018 edition, that is.

SNLFAQSATURDAY NIGHT LIVE FAQ: EVERYTHING LEFT TO KNOW ABOUT TELEVISION’S LONGEST RUNNING COMEDY by Stephen Tropiano — Although unauthorized, this trade-paperback look at NBC’s late-night institution is nothing less than authoritative. Whether the 478 pages of information is “left to know” is questionable, but it’s meaty content, with chapters devoted to the show’s cast members, hosts, musical guests, breakout characters, short films, movie spin-offs and other elements throughout its 38 seasons. (No, the current 39th obviously is not included.) Also included is a guide to each episode — a nightmare to assemble, but for SNL fans, a joy to read. —Rod Lott

Buy them at Amazon.

The Double

doubleGeorge Pelecanos’ THE DOUBLE is the second title in his new series featuring Spero Lucas, the former Marine now working as an unlicensed private investigator both for an attorney and on his own. Although noticeably more somber than last year’s debut, THE CUT, this latest novel allows us to know Lucas better and learn what motivates him.
Lucas is in the middle of tracking down evidence and suspects in murder trial for his Washington, D.C.-based attorney employer. While off the clock, a bartender friend gives him a lead for a side job. A woman named Grace Kinkaid has had a painting stolen by her ex-boyfriend and wants it back. Lucas agrees to find the ex-boyfriend and return the painting — from which the book takes its title — only after Grace agrees to pay Lucas his usual cut after the artwork is sold.

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Houses of Noir: Dark Visions from Thirteen Film Studios

housesnoir13One can appreciation the idea behind Ronald Schwartz’s HOUSES OF NOIR: DARK VISIONS FROM THIRTEEN FILM STUDIOS without doing the same for the execution.

That idea is simple: Pick the best example of film noir from each studio in play of that golden era, and discuss it. Granted, this mean the work is driven by the author’s subjectivity — no problem there. What ultimately makes the McFarland & Company paperback lacking of substance is what passes for discussion and criticism.

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Invasive Species

invasivespeciesGood news, everyone! Global warming may not be as big a concern as some say! There is, of course, a quid for that quo, but let’s not focus on the half-empty, people. Joseph Wallace’s INVASIVE SPECIES sets up a possible curtain call for the human race, you and I given the hook by a particularly pernicious breed of insect. And, dang, it’s a blast watching the apocalypse buzz in under the radar.

Wallace is working off the script perfected by the late Michael Crichton:
• Open in remote Africa, and reveal the threat.
• Then set the heroes racing against time to stop that threat.
• The establishment — sleazy politicians, arrogant scientists, greedy this and that — will ignore or cover up the threat.
• Every now and again, dump a little info on the readers, giving the breathless monster-movie narrative a bit of Discovery Channel cred.
• And with a few swift character notes, set up the archetypal protagonists.

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