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Rescue Me

Catherine Mann. Berkley Sensation, $7.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-0-425-26989-3

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Mann doubles the magic for her marvelous second book in the Second Chance Ranch contemporary series (after Shelter Me). At Second Chance, dogs get a shot at a new life, and the humans who help them incidentally learn to fall in love again. Mary Hannah Gallo, a therapist volunteering at the shelter, struggles with memories of her own miscarriage while supporting her best friend’s pregnancy. Mary Hannah was in rehab for drug abuse when she lost the baby, and since then she has devoted herself to improving her life and helping others. She doesn’t dare get involved with AJ Parker, a former undercover narcotics officer battling burnout, but when AJ starts training a severely abused boxer named Holly, AJ and Mary Hannah keep getting thrown together in a variety of dog-related situations. The scenes in which Holly discovers that the world can be a safe and beautiful place are the most heartwarming in a novel saturated with sweet and touching moments. Mary Hannah and AJ know people make mistakes, and they make deeply admirable efforts to look past each other’s flaws with compassion and understanding. Even humans who aren’t fond of dogs will sob all over this tale of healing and hope. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Love like Blood

Marcus Sedgwick. Pegasus Crime (Norton, dist.), $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-60598-683-8

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YA author Sedgwick (Midwinter Blood) shifts triumphantly to adult fiction with this moving and multifaceted thriller, in which he subtly draws the reader into the haunted world of Englishman Charles Jackson, whom we meet as a 25-year-old captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps in August 1944. Shortly after the liberation of Paris, Jackson takes a break from his duties to visit the Musée des Antiquités Nationales in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, housed in a chateau that served as German Army headquarters during the occupation. A noise leads him to investigate an abandoned bunker, where he encounters a man hunched over the lifeless body of a young woman, drinking her blood from a wound in her chest. Stunned by this horrific vision, Jackson flees. He soon returns to the scene, only to find the pair have vanished. Seven years later, still tormented by his belief that he could have saved the woman’s life, Jackson spots the man again, and he becomes consumed with the fear that the predator will strike again. Sedgwick maintains a high level of tension up until the devastating conclusion. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Condemned to Death: A Burren Mystery

Cora Harrison. Severn, $28.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8442-8

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Harrison has never been better than in her 12th historical starring Irish investigating magistrate and law school dean Mara (after 2014’s Verdict of the Court). Under Irish law in the 16th century, murdering a close relative is punished by setting the guilty party out to sea in a boat without oars. When a boat without oars containing the body of an unidentified man drifts onto the shore of the Kingdom of the Burren, the locals assume that the dead man must have been a kin-slayer. Mara’s oldest scholar, Domhnall, later tells her that he thinks he recognizes the corpse as that of a goldsmith from Galway, a city farther up the Atlantic coast that’s governed by English law, which punishes kin-slayers by hanging. Mara concludes that someone murdered the goldsmith and hoped to disguise the cause of death. As Mara’s sleuthing leads her to a clever and disturbing solution, Harrison seamlessly integrates law and social history (e.g., Mara notes that the emergence of the merchant profession obligates setting a legal penalty for killing one). Agent: Peter Buckman, Ampersand Agency (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My Documents

Alejandro Zambra, trans. from the Spanish by Megan McDowell. McSweeney’s, $15 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-940450-52-0

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The title story in Zambra’s (Ways of Going Home) story collection establishes a casual, conversational, self-aware tone: the narrator recalls not informing his parents when he becomes an altar boy, nor telling the priest that he hasn’t gone to confession. In the story, lying doesn’t catch up with this boy so much as isolates him, a common condition among Zambra protagonists, while his mother’s music—the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Chilean easy listening—plays in the background. “Camilo” traces the friendship between two boys, uncovering how their fathers’ friendship ended years before on a soccer field. Soccer is also central to “Thank You,” where Mexico City kidnappers spare the lives of two tourists in honor of Chilean-born Monterrey player Chupete Suazo. The kidnappers’ dialogue (an obscene rant followed by sports analysis) exemplifies Zambra’s humor, and the story’s ending reverberates with his melancholy. Cats play prominent roles in two tales, both about feckless caretakers: a divorced father adopts what he thinks is a male cat until it has kittens; a slacker’s four-month house-sitting stint for his cousin is complicated by a runaway cat. Funny, sad, sometimes rambling and sometimes exact, Zambra’s stories convey with striking honesty what it’s like to be Chilean today: adrift and confused, uncertain of institutions, relationships, or the future. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Salt Covenants

Sylvia Bambola. Heritage, $14.99 trade paper (345p) ISBN 978-0-9899707-7-8

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Bambola (Rebekah’s Treasure) elevates a simple historical tale into something transcendent, in this beautifully written novel about a young Jewish noblewoman, Isabel, who flees the Inquisition on Christopher Columbus’s second voyage to the New World. Isabel is an unforced convert to Christianity, much to her mother’s dismay. When members of the Inquisition take an untoward interest in her, Isabel’s parents make haste to send her away to the New World with her brand-new husband: a virtual stranger who had been her sister’s betrothed. Of course, nothing in their new home is what they were promised. While Isabel struggles with the difference between what is and what is not permitted of the faithful, she must also come to terms with the hardships of her new homeland. Filled with plentiful demonstrations of abiding faith, Isabel’s story is one of strength and perseverance in a time when women were expected to have neither. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Promise of Palm Grove

Shelley Shepard Gray. Avon Inspire, $12.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-233770-2

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Prolific author Gray (Return to Sugarcreek series) begins a new series, Amish Brides of Pinecraft, set in the Florida town of Pinecraft along the Gulf of Mexico. Beverly Overholt runs the Orange Blossom Inn in this Amish vacation mecca. While she deals with the ghosts of her past, she welcomes three girls from Walnut Creek, Ohio, including Leona Weaver. Leona’s secret reason for the trip is to take a break from her overbearing fiancé, Edmund. She and her friends meet Zachary Kaufmann and his friends, which puts Leona on a crash course with Edmund, her promise to him, and her feelings for the handsome Zack. Will Zack’s kindness melt her resolve? Will Leona risk Edmund’s wrath and her family’s disappointment as her feelings for Zack grow? And how will she and Zack bear Leona’s return to Ohio? Gray has written an endearing tale set in unique location that offers readers a look at an Amish woman who stands her ground and does what’s best—for her. Agent: Mary Sue Seymour, Seymour Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Outlaw Takes a Bride

Susan Page Davis. Barbour, $13.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-63058-259-3

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Davis (Prairie Dreams trilogy) pens a simple stand-alone story set in 1885 Texas centered on Johnny Paynter, a hard-working ranch hand who learns that he’s wanted for a murder he didn’t commit. His friend Cam Combes convinces Johnny to run rather than face the charges. The pair then heads to a ranch owned by Mark, Johnny’s brother, only to find Mark dead and the homestead pillaged. When a bearded Johnny is mistaken for his dead brother, Cam and Johnny decide to continue the ruse in order to charge supplies and withdraw money from Mark’s accounts. The deception becomes difficult, however, when Johnny learns that a widow, Sally Golding, is on her way to Texas to marry Mark. Johnny marries Sally as soon as she steps from the train, so as not to expose himself as an imposter. As Sally reintroduces Johnny to his Christian faith, their bond grows stronger, but so do Johnny’s anxieties over his deception. Though the final revelations will not surprise most careful readers, Davis has crafted an easy read for those who are partial to historical romances. Agent: Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mist of Midnight

Sandra Byrd. Howard, $14.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-4767-1786-9

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Missionary daughter Rebecca Ravenshaw returns to England, a grown woman bereft after her parents’ death in a violent uprising in India. She is met with suspicion when she arrives at Headbourne to claim her family estate, however, since another young woman had already assumed ownership months earlier, claiming to be the true heir. This imposter died soon afterward, and a distant male relative had been summoned to take over the inheritance. This man, Captain Luke Whitfield is handsome and charming, certainly, but is he trustworthy? Does he play the affable host while planning yet another heiress’s demise, or will he prove worthy of Rebecca’s trust—and affection? As the plot thickens and strange incidents occur, Rebecca draws on her well-grounded Christian faith to combat her growing fear. Intriguing secondary characters and lush scenery contribute to the often sinister, even creepy, moments readers will come to anticipate. Infusing her story with mystery, tension, and emotion, Byrd (To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn) strikes a fine balance between the darkness of a Gothic mystery and the sweetness of a captivating love story. Byrd—and Brontë—fans will enjoy this first of the new Daughters of Hampshire series. Agency: Browne and Miller Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Fire Me Up

Kimberly Kincaid. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3655-5

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Tension, drama, and sweet nothings mingle in the tasty fourth Pine Mountain contemporary (after Stirring Up Trouble). Snarky chef Adrian Holt’s motorcycle accident leaves him with a broken arm and the beginnings of a serious stir-crazy crisis. Kitchen-phobic paramedic Teagan O’Malley is at her wits’ end; the chef at her father’s bar has quit, and the Friday night crowd is building. Then Adrian walks in and offers his services. As the battle of wills continues from an earlier encounter, Adrian and Teagan simultaneously fight against and stir up the heat in the kitchen and their hearts. Threats from a loan shark and a hard-hearted parole officer add the dramatic elements; unfortunately, the Pennsylvanian Blue Ridge Mountains setting lacks real local color. The plot is fairly ordinary, but a last-minute twist will make readers gasp. Foodies and series fans will relish this spirited journey of love and happiness. Agent: Maureen Walters, Curtis Brown Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The First Kiss

Grace Burrowes. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4022-7887-7

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In the slow-going second Sweetest Kisses contemporary (after A Single Kiss), single mom Vera Waltham, a famous pianist, gets a new chance at love. When Vera meets James Knightley, her divorce attorney’s good-looking brother, she tries to keep a safe distance from his charms. Two marriages that left much to be desired have undermined Vera’s confidence, and a recent slew of anonymous threats is keeping her on edge. Although James is bewitched by her beauty, it’s hard to understand why he falls head over heels for her so quickly, especially since she continues to rebuff him. As James comes to the rescue time and again when Vera calls, a staid and somewhat strange relationship builds; Vera keeps things strictly platonic, while James, until now the hottest “booty call of the year,” meekly waits for her advances. All the characters engage in nonstop picture-perfect behavior: constant meals cooked from scratch, textbook dialogue, and unreal family dynamics. This installment falls far short of its charming predecessor. Agent: Steve Axelrod, Axelrod Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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