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Too Deep for Words

Andrea Boeshaar. Kregel, $14.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-8254-4419-7

Readers interested in the Civil War will find much to delight in Boeshaar’s (A Thousand Shall Fall) writing, but would be wise to read the series in order. In this second installment in the Shenandoah Valley Saga, the Civil War has changed newlywed Carrie Ann Collier’s life in many ways. Her husband, a Union soldier, is missing in battle. Carrie learns her husband entrusted her care to his best friend, Eli, a Confederate soldier, and when she tries to find out why Eli, and what exactly happened, she finds herself in dangerous territory. She and Eli must come to terms with the new realities war has thrust upon them. Readers who have not read the first book may find themselves abruptly dropped into the story, creating a sense of displacement that is only increased by the frequent point-of-view changes. The plot meanders and characters spend many scenes reacting to more interesting events, slowing the pace dramatically. As a second book in a series, some unresolved plotlines are expected, but the ending creates more frustration than anticipation. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Chapel Car Bride

Judith Miller. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-7642-1905-4

This book is inspired by 19th-century itinerant preachers and chapel cars, specially built houses of worship in train cars used to spread the Gospel throughout sparsely populated parts of the U.S. Hope Irvine, a preacher’s daughter, is always thrilled to join her father on his adventures as a chapel car preacher and can’t wait to set off on his new assignment to Finch, W.Va. Although she and her father want to help, the coal mining community is reluctant to accept them. Luke Hughes, a local miner, finds his faith refreshed with the arrival of Hope and her father. Luke offers to help them navigate Finch’s closed culture, but quickly they discover the town’s many challenges come from both inside and out. The story becomes murky, however. The book is categorized as a romance, but scenes of authentic romance between Luke and Hope are few. Also disappointing is the prominence of a third character, from whose point of view Miller frequently writes scenes,who lacks a character arc and abruptly exits with little resolution. Miller’s (The Artisan’s Wife) fans will enjoy this romp following the traveling chapels of yesteryear. Agent: Wendy Lawton, Books & Such (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Fare to Remember

Opal Carew. St. Martin’s Griffin, $15.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-11668-0

In this laughably puerile chain of sex scenes disguised as a novel, a cab driver named Stevie, who happens to come from a moneyed family but cut ties to live a more down-to-earth life, picks up an astonishingly good-looking businessman fare. She decides to go against what she says is her normal behavior and initiates unprotected sex with him against an alley wall before even learning his name, which turns out to be Reid. A similarly absurd string of decisions leads to inviting Reid’s best friend, Dylan, to join them in the bedroom, where the three of them engage in a number of also-unprotected sex acts that Carew (Tempting the Boss) has clearly never bothered to research. The hilariously cheesy porno-flick dialogue and farcical descriptions (including a “meaty popsicle”) make this ostensibly erotic tale an easy miss. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Hard Justice: Body Armor, Book 2

Lori Foster. HQN, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-373-79932-9

Everything that made Under Pressure such a winner is missing from Foster’s second Body Armor romantic thriller, in which a tensionless plot is built upon an improbable premise. Former MMA fighter Justice Wallington accepts an assignment as personal bodyguard for 24-year-old Fallon Wade. Fallon’s controlling, overprotective father has kept her under constant guard for only the last five years, but the extent of her naïveté implies she lived on another planet for the first 19. She has no friends, few life experiences, and no depth. What suspense there is ensues as Fallon’s ex and some duplicitous associates from Justice’s former life threaten their blossoming romance and their lives. Forgettable characters caught in an unremarkable story make this a rare lapse in Foster’s otherwise superlative oeuvre. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Royally Bad

Nora Flite. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (265p) ISBN 978-1-5039-4279-0

Flite’s (Rock Me Deep) ridiculous contemporary series launch combines nonstop, over-the-top drama with steamy romance. Wedding dressmaker Sammy returns from New York to her Rhode Island hometown following her father’s mysterious death. She plans to launch a business and care for her ailing mother. Impetuous twins Frannie and Kain Badd soon descend upon her shop, demanding a wedding dress in two days and offering $20,000 for it. An instant crush on Kain spurs Sammy’s efforts to accommodate the family, which results in her serving as party planner and maid of honor. Then the police disrupt the festivities. After a brief stint in jail, she returns home and is attacked by a stranger; Kain rescues her and whisks her away to the luxurious Badd estate, where she drags him into bed and learns that his family are both royals (of some sort) and local crime lords. Charming leads and humorous action sequences offset the frequent need to suspend disbelief, as when Sammy uncomplainingly endures weeks of imprisonment chez Badd before discovering a subplot involving the Deep Shots, a rival gang. Flint introduces a number of brooding Badd siblings for future installments, though readers may not feel compelled to seek them out. Agent: Rebecca Friedman, Rebecca Friedman Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Don’t Feed the Trolls

Erica Kudisch. Riptide, $17.99 trade paper (227p) ISBN 978-1-62649-559-3

Kudisch tackles video game misogyny in this charming, geeky, but ultimately unwieldy romance. Daphne Benoit, a somewhat employed French-born actor living in the U.S., is elated when her fictionalized version of her online RPG gaming strategy wins the game company’s story-writing competition. However, male players who feel threatened by her success unleash a torrent of vitriol and actual threats on her. Hoping to evade notice, Daphne switches to a male persona in the game—which quickly leads to adopting the name Daphnis and trying on masculine mannerisms in person—and takes refuge with the help of Laura, another player who experienced similar harassment. Much of the early dialogue appears in chat log form and rewards those familiar with gamer slang and musical theater. Daphnis stumbles through overlapping online and offline dangers and a burgeoning romance with Laura until things come to a head at a national gaming convention. Kudisch brings needed attention to online harassment and rightly shows how well-meaning allies often cause more harm than good. However, the tale is hampered by the glib treatment of Daphnis’s sudden gender shift (including the implication that a transmasculine identity can save someone from misogynist abuse) and an extraneous acting career subplot. Kudisch’s attempt to cram so much into the story waters down its impact. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Small-Town Bride

Hope Ramsay. Forever, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6484-2

Ramsey (A Christmas Bride) charms in her second Chapel of Love contemporary, set in tiny Shenandoah Falls, Va. Wealthy Amy Lyndon spends her days shopping until her overbearing father kicks her out of the house for refusing to marry Grady, the rich hedge-fund manager he’s picked out as her groom. Rather than wed a man she doesn’t love, Amy opts to leave home and takes the only job she can find: joining the landscaping crew at a local wedding venue. Her new boss, Dusty McNeil, is the proverbial kid from the wrong side of the tracks made good, and he can’t see why a pampered rich woman would try or could succeed at a job so seemingly beneath her. As their mutual attraction grows, Dusty realizes that the woman he’s written off has a backbone of steel and a generous heart, but her father’s machinations may doom their romance before it’s even begun. Some of the story is a bit contrived (particularly Amy’s exile from the family mansion), but Ramsey wins readers’ hearts with likable characters, an engaging plot (and a hilarious subplot), and a well-deserved happy ending. Agent: Elaine P. English. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Unyielding

Shelly Laurenston. Kensington, , $15 ISBN 978-1-61773-513-4

In Laurenston’s third Call of Crows urban fantasy (after The Undoing), preventing the end of the world unites two unlikely allies. Long-forgotten Norse goddess Gullveig is determined to bring about Ragnarok. To stop her, the quarreling clans of god-empowered warriors have to work together despite centuries of feuding. For pyrokinetic Crow Erin Amsel and no-nonsense Raven Steig Engstrom, this is easier said than done; he considers her “the most irritating, frustrating, rude, ridiculous woman the gods had ever placed on earth,” an assessment she’s happy to support. Nevertheless, their partnership proves effective as they track down Gullveig’s worshippers and travel across the Nine Realms to find the one weapon capable of killing their foe, battling giants and confronting gods along the way, but neither of them knows what to do about the attraction brewing between them. As usual, Laurenston’s story is outrageously bawdy, her characters are unabashedly foul-mouthed and unrestrained, and her comedic timing is on point. The blend of screwball romance, mythological mayhem, and all-out action is as enjoyable as ever, wrapping up the three-book arc in a satisfying manner. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg, Ethan Ellenberg Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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This Time Around

Tawna Fenske. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (354p) ISBN 978-1-5039-4320-9

In Fenske’s newest second-chance love story set in Portland, Ore. (after Now That It’s You), a hapless woman finds that misunderstandings almost outnumber the extra-toed cats she’s inherited along with her grandmother’s B and B. Jack Carpenter was a screwup when he was in college, but he loved Allie Ross, despite her nitpicking ways and constant demands. Allie’s unstoppable need to have everything go as planned led her to end her romance with carefree and spontaneous Jack. Sixteen years later, Jack, now a wealthy business owner, widower, and single father to 10-year-old Paige, returns to Portland to attend his high school reunion, eager to show Allie how wrong she was about his future. Allie’s own life is a trail of wreckage, including four failed engagements and parents serving time for orchestrating a Ponzi scheme. Outspoken Paige and the often embarrassing contents of Allie’s grandma’s attic add a special blend of comedy and suspense as Jack and Allie reunite. The lovers let their pride and insecurities get in the way, but readers will gladly join them on their journey to self-improvement. Agent: Michelle Wolfson, Wolfson Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Wind River Cowboy

Lindsay McKenna. Zebra, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4178-8

McKenna revisits the beautiful landscape of Wyoming in her sensitive, powerful third Wind River Valley contemporary (after Wind River Rancher). Kira Duval is a decorated veteran grappling with PTSD. She finds a job on a ranch started by fellow veteran Shaylene Lockhart; it’s a working ranch where veterans can hold meaningful jobs and begin to heal. Kira is pleasantly surprised when she learns that Garret Fleming, the only other member of her Special Forces team to survive an ambush in Afghanistan, is also working on the ranch, and they will be sharing a house together. Kira is assigned to cook and clean for Shay’s difficult, alcoholic father, who is recovering from a stroke. When his abusive behavior triggers her PTSD, Garret stays by her side to support her. As Kira and Garret reveal that they have harbored romantic feelings for each other for years, they begin to heal from the wounds of the past and the trauma of survivor guilt. McKenna has carefully interwoven the devastation of trauma with the power of healing love. Agent: Claire Gerus, Claire Gerus Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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