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Into the Maelstrom

David Drake and John Lambshead. Baen, $25 (448p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8028-3

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Writing from an outline by Drake, Lambshead neatly adapts real history to a science fiction framework in the second novel of the Citizen trilogy (after Into the Hinterlands). Among the far-flung colonial planets of the Cutter Stream, frustration with home rule verges on revolution. Allen Allenson takes on the role of captain-general and leads a squabbling group of disjointed militias to war. If this sounds familiar, it is because Drake and Lambshead are telling the story of George Washington as a space opera. The authors’ adept contrivance of the Continuum, a troublesome energy field that allows interstellar travel but only via light vehicles, allows for ingenious renditions: a battering trip along the Continuum stands in for the crossing of the Delaware, and problematic marsh gases force the army to substitute catapults and knives for pulse rifles during the recreation of the siege of Boston. Surprises are scant, but knowing that Allenson will triumph in Cambridge and subsequently be defeated in Port Trent in no way detracts from the enjoyment provided by this ingeniously structured retelling. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Connicle Curse: A Colin Pendragon Mystery

Gregory Harris. Kensington, $15 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-7582-9271-1

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At the start of Harris’s unsatisfying third late-Victorian mystery (after 2014’s The Bellingham Bloodbath), Annabelle Connicle hires Colin Pendragon, a successful London private detective, and Ethan Pruitt, Colin’s professional and romantic partner, to ascertain the fate of her missing husband, Edmond. The worried wife also calls in Scotland Yard after finding a great deal of blood in a gardener’s shed at their West Hampton home. The police soon discover Edmond’s charred corpse in a blackened depression in a nearby road, identified by a ring that matches what his wife described. A voodoo fetish lies beneath the body. The relationship between Colin and Ethan is underdeveloped, and Colin, who delights in showing up his rivals on the force, misses no opportunity to denigrate them, to the point where he comes across as obnoxious rather than self-assured. The solution depends too much on chance. Agent: Kathy Green, Kathy Green Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Mechanical

Ian Tregillis. Orbit, $17 trade paper (480p) ISBN 978-0-316-24800-6

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Tregillis (Something More Than Night) launches a series with this superb alternate history filled with clockwork men and ethical questions on the nature of free will. The Calvinist Dutch empire, with the help of the mechanical soldiers (“Clakkers”) that are imbued with intelligence and enslaved through magic, has been dominant since defeating the French in the 17th century. Two centuries later, their only opponents are small French and Papal outposts in the New World. Against this background, French spymaster Berenice Charlotte de Mornay-Périgord, Vicomtesse de Laval, attempts to manage her secret agents abroad. One of those agents is Father Luuk Visser, a Catholic priest undercover as a pastor in the Hague, who knows he’s soon going to be exposed. He uses one of the Clakkers, Jax, to smuggle an item across the Atlantic. As Berenice, Luuk, and Jax go on their separate journeys (only briefly intersecting), they uncover multiple dastardly plots, learn terrifying secrets, and have to cope with knowing that all three of them have destroyed innocent lives. Tregillis’s complex setting is elegantly delivered, and the rich characters and gripping story really make this tale soar. Agent: Kay McCauley, Pimlico Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Pedal to the Metal

Jesse J. Thoma. Bold Strokes (boldstrokesbooks.com), $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-62639-239-7

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Sassy and sexy meet adventurous and slightly nerdy in Thoma’s much-anticipated sequel to The Chase. Max Winters is the self-proclaimed computer guru for Holt Lasher’s bond enforcement crew in Providence, R.I. She’s been wanting to do more fieldwork, helping to apprehend people who jump bail, but she’s as surprised as anyone when Holt graduates her to primary agent on a tricky case—and lead babysitter for Whitney “Dubs” Williams, an unrepentant, irreverent, gorgeous car thief who’s going to help Holt’s crew break an auto larceny ring. Dubs has done part of the time for her crime and leaps at this opportunity to wear a white hat, hoping to at least briefly escape the boredom and monotony of prison life. She doesn’t count on being shot at, chased, or handcuffed to Max, the one woman she finds utterly irresistible. Tongue-in-cheek wit keeps the fast-moving action from going off the rails, all balanced by richly nuanced interpersonal relationships and sweet, realistic romance. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Rooms

Lili Anolik. Morrow, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-234586-8

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The bullet that snuffs out the life of 16-year-old wild child Nica Baker hits her family like a hollow-point, especially psychologically enmeshed big sister Grace, in this suspenseful, sad, and shattering first novel from Vanity Fair contributing editor Anolik. Only a year older, and the yang to Nica’s yin, good girl Grace had been relying on her sister’s charisma and cool to smooth Grace’s way through the emotional minefields of Chandler Academy, the precious Hartford, Conn., private school where their parents both teach. In fact, Grace just can’t let Nica go, repeatedly seeing, hearing, and talking with her during the grief-swamped, drug-muddled months that follow. When a fellow student’s suicide-confession officially closes the case, Grace doesn’t buy it. Deferring her enrollment at Williams, she sifts through the wreckage of their lives, ostensibly to figure out who really killed Nica, but, even more crucially, to find herself. As she starts to penetrate the myriad lies and secrets, the picture that emerges is far from pretty, with a lengthy list of suspects. Whether or not you believe in ghosts, Anolik’s debut will haunt you. Agent: Jennifer Joel, ICM. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Dream of My Return

Horacio Castellanos Moya, trans. from the Spanish by Katherine Silver. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2343-0

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Moya’s (Senselessness) lyrical meditation on memory and loss tells the story of Erasmo Aragon, an exiled journalist in Mexico City who suffers from ambiguous medical symptoms. Aragon visits an acupuncturist and holistic doctor named Don Chente, who prescribes hypnotherapy, with the side effect of producing vivid dreams. As the status quo of his life is disrupted, the narrator of this Bolañoesque novel dreams of leaving Mexico and returning to his native El Salvador. His plans to return, however, are repeatedly interrupted, and he finds himself twisted up in a state of fear and vulnerable paranoia. Further complications arise when the mysterious Don Chente himself flees to El Salvador without telling Aragon what he said while hypnotized. Yet Aragon’s dream is worth the risk of retribution, because it is the dream of all exiles: the return to a new life in a familiar setting. Stories of political turmoil, communism, love affairs, friendships, and family drama weave in and out of Aragon’s quest to escape his own “psychic mechanisms.” In this taut, mesmerizing story of the brain’s far-reaching functions, Moya once again proves to be a master storyteller. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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For the Love of Cake

Erin Dutton. Bold Strokes (boldstrokes-
books.com), $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-626-39241-0

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In Dutton’s highly entertaining contemporary, well-drawn characters Shannon Hayes and Maya Vaughn discover romance behind reality TV. Shannon is picked as a contestant for a cake baking and decorating contest show. Having spent her life tending to others’ needs, first in a failed marriage and then in the successful parenting of her adopted daughter, she longs to finally take care of herself, both professionally and romantically. Her motives are refreshingly plausible and relatable. Bisexual pastry chef Maya, a judge on the show, is known more for her party lifestyle than for her cakes; when she falls for Shannon, a longtime fan 14 years her senior, she realizes that her history is going to make it hard to pursue a real relationship. Shannon especially struggles with a rumor that Maya recently had an abortion. Though the reality show’s challenges often lack originality, Dutton’s love story never loses momentum. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Slow and Steady Rush

Laura Trentham. St. Martin’s, $3.99 e-book (400p) ISBN 978-1-4668-8394-9

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In the first installment of Trentham’s Falcon Football series, a young woman gets a new shot at love when she returns to the small Alabama town of her youth to look after her injured grandmother. Darcy Wilde is a prim and proper librarian trying to live down her mother’s scandalous reputation. Her new neighbor, Robbie Dalton, who’s Falcon’s new high school football coach, has a way of riling her up. But irritation gives way to mutual desire, spoiled only by a miscommunication that leaves Darcy convinced Robbie is gay—an inaccurate assessment that threatens to ruin his reputation with the townsfolk. To save Robbie’s image and his job, they engage in a fake relationship that threatens to turn all too real with each sizzling kiss. But Robbie has dark secrets and traumas of his own to overcome before he can commit to what they both know to be a good thing. The instant chemistry and dynamic give-and-take between the two fuels this otherwise ordinary romance as it juggles several different dramatic subplots. Trentham pulls the various elements together in time to deliver a sweet, satisfying story. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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One Wish

Robyn Carr. Mira, $8.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1772-2

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Carr fills her seventh visit to Thunder Point (after The Homecoming) with a charming cast of characters and a tender love story. Grace Dillon—formerly known as champion ice skater Izzy Banks—moves to the small Oregon town and buys a small flower shop, hoping to escape the overwhelming pressures of the competitive skating world. High school teacher Troy Headly is getting over a long relationship and looking for some lighthearted fun, so he offers a no-strings-attached relationship to the too-serious florist. Things heat up quickly when the two realize that they feel far more for each other than mere friendship. But after Grace’s estranged mother returns to town with a bombshell revelation, their relationship might be nipped in the bud. Carr neatly weaves in glimpses of the happily-ever-afters from previous books in the series, which will please longtime readers. This is a solid smalltown romance with heart. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Where Secrets Sleep

Marta Perry. HQN, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-373-77960-4

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Abundant details turn this Amish romantic thriller series launch into a work of art. Perry (Lydia’s Hope) delicately crafts the story of Allison Standish’s struggle to adjust from big-city life to the much slower pace in Laurel Ridge, Penn., where she inherited a home from a grandmother she never knew. While Allison quickly makes friends with sweetly-spoken quilt shop owner Sarah Bitler, it’s her deepening friendship and romance with cabinetmaker Nick Whiting that takes center stage. Not everyone is as welcoming as Sarah and Nick, however. A somewhat sinister mystery surrounds Allison’s inheritance, and there are several people who would be happy to see her gone. With far more emphasis on emotional connections than suspense, the intricately constructed plot features relatable, believable characters faced with realistic struggles both large and small. This is an excellent beginning to what promises to be a series of rewarding, satisfying novels. Agent: Danielle Egan Miller, Browne & Miller Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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