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The Big Fix

Linda Grimes. Tor, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7638-1

Grimes’s third Ciel Halligan contemporary caper (after Quick Fix) combines elements of a complicated romance with hints of Hollywood and the paranormal. Ciel is just one in a long line of aura adaptors: humans who were born with a slight genetic quirk that allows them to take on the appearance of anyone they come in contact with. Like most of her family, Ciel makes her living using her gift, primarily impersonating Hollywood stars. When the wife of the actor she’s standing in for turns up dead, Ciel turns to two of her fellow adaptors: her boyfriend, Billy, and their mutual friend (on whom she has a crush), Mark. However, it takes the whole family to manage this mystery. Self-referential humor combines beautifully with fast-paced action and suspense. The warm, merry vibe of Ciel’s large family and the continuity from previous books are simply added bonuses to the exceptionally well-told story. A moment of ambiguity concerning identity and sexual consent provides the only slightly discordant note in an otherwise juicy tale that will thrill fans of romance, mystery, and the supernatural. Agent: Michelle Wolfson, Wolfson Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Aurora

Kim Stanley Robinson. Orbit, $26 (480p) ISBN 978-0-316-09810-6

This ambitious hard SF epic shows Robinson (Shaman) at the top of his game. Freya and her parents live aboard a starship that has traveled for generations and will soon reach Tau Ceti, a star about 12 light years from Earth’s solar system. Freya’s mother, Devi, is the de facto chief engineer, struggling to keep the ship’s environment balanced until they reach a new world and, they hope, survive on it. But ecologies are delicate, resources are limited, and the laws of physics are immutable. Over the course of Freya’s life, her community faces genuinely surprising struggles for survival, leading Freya to wonder whether it is too late to reconsider a question initially decided millions of miles away and centuries ago: should this ship have been launched in the first place? As always, Robinson is at his best when dealing with large populations, scientific questions, and logistics, and the very human characters are more than afterthoughts. Even an occasional lapse into preaching about the philosophical problems with space exploration can’t mar this poignant story, which admirably stretches the limits of human imagination. (July)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Fatal Flame

Lyndsay Faye. Putnam, $26.95 (480p) ISBN 978-0-399-16948-9

A serial arsonist terrorizes New York City in Edgar-finalist Faye’s superior third historical featuring Timothy Wilde (after 2013’s Seven for a Secret). In the spring of 1848, Robert Symmes, a Tammany Hall politician, meets with Wilde, one of the city’s police officers known as copper stars, and Wilde’s police-captain brother, Valentine, at the Queen Mab, a Manhattan brothel. Symmes needs their help. An advocate for more humane treatment of the city’s female workers has thrown a note through the alderman’s window threatening that things will burn if conditions don’t improve. One of the slum buildings that Symmes owns is soon gutted by fire. Wilde’s investigation is complicated by the reappearance of a lost love and Valentine’s decision to oppose Symmes in an upcoming election. As in her previous books, Faye’s diligence in researching the period is manifest, and readers will feel transported back to mid-19th-century Manhattan. The whodunit aspect is compelling, but Faye is equally adept in incorporating the women’s rights movement of the time and attitudes toward the mentally ill into the story line. Agent: Erin Malone, William Morris Endeavor. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Mislaid

Nell Zink. Ecco, $15.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-236479-1

In Zink’s second novel (following The Wallcreeper, named one of the best books of 2014 by PW), a gay man and a gay woman meet at Virginia’s Stillwater College in the 1960s, marry and have children, and eventually separate—it’s a deceptively slim epic of family life that rivals a Greek tragedy in drama and wisdom. The mother, Meg, goes on the lam, taking the identity of a deceased black girl for her daughter, Karen, to start a new life in the rural South (Meg tells the community that she and her daughter are of African-American lineage, though they are white), while her son, Byrdie, remains with the father, Lee. Years later, the kids’ paths cross in a confluence of events at the University of Virginia. The novel deftly handles race, sexuality, and coming of age. Zink’s insight is beautifully braided into understated prose that never lets the tension subside; the narrator’s third-person voice is wry, and the dialogue is snappy. In one scene Meg reflects on how she’ll raise Karen in her new identity: “Children have no hearts [...] and their minds are rickety towers of surreal detritus.” The various ways the characters’ memories and motives affect the action is frequently “mislaid,” from the inciting relationship to the far-flung situations in which the characters find themselves—it all points to Zink’s masterly subtlety and depth. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Zodiac Station

Tom Harper. Harper, $14.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-237130-0

Harper (The Orpheus Descent) brilliantly uses a framing device straight out of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in crafting an utterly compelling, sophisticated page-turner set in the Arctic. Capt. Carl Franklin and his crew aboard the U.S. Coast Guard ice-breaker Terra Nova face a baffling mystery when they rescue a man named Thomas Anderson from an ice floe in the middle of nowhere. Anderson, who’s in bad shape from hypothermia and frostbite, tells Franklin that he’s a researcher from Zodiac Station, a scientific base on the island of Utgard. Martin Hagger, a biologist who believes that life on Earth originated at the poles, recruited Anderson, but when Anderson arrived at Zodiac, Hagger was gone. This was but the first of many puzzles Anderson encountered. After the base was devastated by an explosion, Anderson traveled more than 100 miles in just four days in search of help. Franklin, who finds aspects of Anderson’s narrative questionable, probes relentlessly for the truth about what happened at the research outpost on Utgard. The plotting is complex but logical, with a fairly clued and stunning payoff. Agent: Jane Conway-Gordon, Jane Conway-Gordon Ltd. Literary Agent (U.K.). (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Rocks

Peter Nichols. Riverhead, $27.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-59463-331-7

Nichols (Voyage to the North Star) has conjured the perfect beach read: a romantic story set in a rich beach town on Mallorca called Cala Marsopa. Though you may not get sand between its easy-to-turn pages, you’ll feel as though you have. Lulu Davenport, a lithe and headstrong beauty, is the doyenne of Villa Los Roques, a resort dubbed The Rocks by the English expatriate layabouts who return annually each summer. The book opens in 2005, in Lulu’s “ninth decade,” when a surprise encounter with her estranged first husband, Gerald Rutledge, awakens “a flame of old anger.” Gerald gave up his sailing life and made a permanent home in Cala Marsopa following their brief marriage, though they have managed to avoid each other almost completely for nearly 60 years. Nichols crafts the story in reverse, moving back through time and revealing that even though these former lovers have had little contact, they have left deep imprints on each other. Meanwhile, another story of love, separation, and the “horrible, stunting gap between dream and desire and practicality” is revealed through the deeply intertwined lives of Lulu’s and Gerald’s respective children: Luc Franklin, the son of an American father and raised in Paris, himself a summer-only resident of The Rocks, and Aegina, the dark-eyed daughter of Gerald and a local. The two central stories engage the readers’ sympathies and emotions, while Nichols colors in the background with the indelible imagery of the wind-swept Mediterranean, and the louche exploits of the careless adults and the tanned teenagers who can slip effortlessly from English to Spanish to French, but have a harder time growing up beyond the endless summer. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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At His Command: Historical Romance Version

Ruth Kaufman. Ruth Kaufman, $2.99 e-book (226p) ISBN 978-0-9908469-2-5

Kaufman has simultaneously released two editions of this slightly stilted 2011 Golden Heart winner: this version includes some tasteful sex scenes, while the other is tidily demure. In 1453, King Henry VI dispatches Sir Nicholas Grey to protect recent widow Lady Amice Winfield and escort her to London for an arranged marriage. After a dramatic opening scene in which Nicholas first meets Amice fleeing her repulsive cousin, Harry Winfield, and returns her safely to her home of Castle Rising, there comes a “peaceful interlude” while they await the king’s summons, fight their growing affection, and enjoy daily life in a medieval castle. Questions about patriotism and duty infuse some welcome tension into their relationship: Nicholas staunchly supports the king, while Amice admires and secretly aids Richard, Duke of York, a rival claimant to the throne. Amice is soon very conflicted: “Being at odds with him made her shoulders tense and her stomach churn. But so did giving in.” Once in London, political differences and the king’s commands cause the lovers to continue resisting their mutual longing, though passion occasionally conquers judgment. Court intrigue, battles, romantic rivalry, and political maneuvering make a colorful backdrop for this satisfactory debut. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Montana Winter

M.J. Roberts. M.J. Roberts, $2.99 e-book (110p) ISBN 978-1-311-64187-8

Resplendent with unanswered questions and sweeping descriptions of the Montana landscape, Roberts’s contemporary erotic romance gives the impression of a work half-formed. Noah is no stranger to the rigors of ranch life—caring for both the animals and the land—and he manages well even after adding to his workload by opening a bed and breakfast. With his brother and family, he’s built a life around work that mostly lets him forget Kevin, the one that got away. When Lore and his brother come to stay at the B&B in the days leading up to Christmas, the power of the holiday gives city-boy Lore the edge he needs to break down the walls around Noah’s heart. Though it’s detailed, the plot is rushed in favor of one sex scene after another, with glimmerings of character development added in. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Her Wild Hero

Paige Tyler. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4022-9215-6

Tyler doesn’t let improbable science get in the way of an entertaining adventure in the third X-Ops paranormal romantic thriller (after Her Lone Wolf). Kendra Carlsen, trainer and data cruncher at the Department of Covert Operations, finally convinces her boss to let her take part in a field exercise in the Costa Rican jungle. Then her team is attacked by experimental human-animal hybrids, who lack the self-control of the X-Ops shapeshifters. Bear shifter Declan MacBride, who’s been nursing a crush on Kendra for years, thinks he needs to protect her; he’s impressed when she proves to be a capable, courageous fighter. Kendra starts to realize how attractive Declan is, but he’s terrified that seeing him in bear form will scare her off. Even as fantasy science, the hybrids and their origins are hard to believe, but Tyler keeps the reader distracted with relentless ambushes and a sizzling night of lovemaking. Closing hints about a new kind of shifter will keep readers eager for the next book in the series. Agent: Bob Mecoy, Creative Book Services. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Shadow of a Doubt

Tiffany Snow. Amazon/Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-4778-2910-3

Snow’s breathless second Tangled Ivy espionage romance (after In His Shadow) keeps up a fast pace and comes to an abrupt ending. Bank teller Ivy Mason, who bemoans her model-like looks as “more of a curse than a blessing,” lives in St. Louis in the apartment of her sexy and elusive boyfriend, British spy Devon Clay. He mysteriously appears in her bed in the dead of night and is gone by the morning. Clive, his recently widowed longtime rival, blames Devon for the death of his wife and targets Ivy in turn. Devon reunites with Ivy to protect her, and suddenly their relationship solidifies into romance. As Ivy proves that she is no helpless damsel in distress, she begins falling in love with Devon, though he insists that he can never return her sentiments. Intriguing twists and turns keep the suspense plot balanced with the very sexy romance. Readers who want a solid ending should beware; the cliffhanger finale will leave them very anxious for the final series installment. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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