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Proof Positive: A Joe Gunther Novel

Archer Mayor. Minotaur, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-02639-2

Over 26 years and 25 books (most recently, 2013’s Three Can Keep a Secret), Joe Gunther has moved from police detective in Brattleboro, Vt., to special agent of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, and, as he has grown in stature, so has the series. During the Vietnam War, Signal Corps photographer Benjamin Kendall suffered a head wound and PTSD. Now a reclusive hoarder, he has turned his Dummerston farmhouse property into a massive warren of junk. When Kendall’s body is found crushed “under a pile of personal effects,” it looks like an accident, but Kendall’s first cousin (and Gunther’s lover), Beverly Hillstrom, asks Gunther to take a look. Recently, Hillstrom’s college-age daughter, Rachel Reiling, discovered a cache of Kendall’s war photographs while shooting a school project, and they became part of an exhibit at an art gallery that attracted a couple of hit men. A wave of killings ensues. Stopping the killers means nothing unless Gunther can locate the man behind them. Mayor makes full use of Gunther’s excellent supporting cast, including Willy Kunkle, Lester Spinney, and Sammie Martens, in this smoothly plotted and absorbing mystery. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Studs: Gay Erotic Fiction

Edited by Richard Labonté. Cleis, $15.95 trade paper (266p) ISBN 978-1-62778-070-4

As a collection of erotic fiction, this volume fails to deliver; it is, rather, a collection of mood pieces, self-examinations, and melancholy expressions of regret, all lacking in spice and sizzle. Written primarily in the first person, the stories rarely enter into the subject of pleasure, depicting sexuality but never satisfaction. Where the text does build excitement, it frequently averts its gaze from the erotic, stopping short of depicting the proposed scenarios. In many cases the prose is undone by the hesitation to follow through on the premise. Though the topics are eclectic and many of the authors engaging, as a whole the work is not what it purports to be. If the volume were offered as a set of examinations of alienation, despair, confusion, memory, and the act of fantasy, it might satisfy, but readers expecting a good hot time will be greatly disappointed. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Desperate Hearts

Rosanne Bittner. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0278-1

Emma Radcliffe is on the run from her abusive stepfather, and her destination is the tiny gold-rush town of Alder, Mont. Born a lady and raised in wealth back in New York City, Emma leaves it all behind to become a teacher named Elizabeth Wainright. The last thing she wants is to catch the eye of Mitch Brady, the big, strong local lawman. A vigilante with his own ideas about justice and a strong defender of women, Mitch sees Emma and falls in love, hard. He shows in every way possible that she can trust him, and makes his intentions quite clear. Emma also falls in love, not just with Mitch but also with the independent and fiercely loyal townspeople and the gritty wilderness around her. Alder is the quintessential Wild West town where everyone has a past and no one asks any questions. This Western historical is chock-full of danger, with families set on a vendetta, the threat of Emma’s stepfather, and the daily demands of Mitch’s job, but Emma is no wilting lily, proving she is a match for Mitch in every way. Agent: Maura Kye-Casella, Don Congdon Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Linger

Lauren Jameson. Signet Eclipse, $15 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-451-47080-5

Jameson follows Breathe with a tender exploration of the intersection between domination and love. Seeking one more night of fun in Las Vegas before heading out to rural Montana for a year of studying large animal healthcare, veterinarian Scarlett Malone is delighted when a man she picks up in a club is quite willing to submit to her. When Scarlett arrives at Dr. Logan Brody’s farm and realizes that he was her yielding lover, they have to figure out how they’re going to live together for the next year. Logan deliberately suppresses his submissive nature but can’t resist his attraction to his “Mistress,” and Scarlett gradually takes charge of their sex life. Scarlett and Logan work hard on the farm, and they burn even more calories in the bedroom as she literally whips emotional confessions out of Logan to free him from the emotional burden of past traumas. Jameson works hard to underscore that Scarlett dominates Logan with his permission and as an expression of affection, and the result is a surprisingly sweet and undeniably kinky romance. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Claudine

Barbara Palmer. Berkley, $15 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-425-27672-3

Palmer’s splendid exploration of sensual performance is much a study of erotic literature as it is an addition to the genre. Maria Lantos, a literary-minded post grad from Yale, supports herself as a student by giving special performances for one night only. Each is tailored to the particular tastes of the evening’s client. Palmer is eager to confess her fascination with historical figures and books of ill repute, and she keeps a sultry gaze squarely on her protagonist, taking a fetishist’s delight in clothing and fragrances throughout. While paying homages to classic scenes of sensuality, Palmer is unsentimental in portraying the painful and dangerous components of Maria’s descent into lasciviousness. But the artful presentations of debauchery for its own sake also contain the hope of romantic ideals. Readers will breathlessly follow Maria’s adventures to their satisfying conclusion. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Private Politics

Emma Barry. Carina, $3.99 e-book (137p) ISBN 978-1-4268-9891-4

In her second novel set in the lobbyist world of Washington, D.C. (after Special Interests), Barry strikes an easy balance between the intrigue of scandal and the tension of new romance. Alyse Philips wants to prove that she is a capable professional fundraiser, not just an airheaded socialite living off her family’s connections. During an annual audit of the literacy nonprofit that she works for, she finds discrepancies that implicate the organization—and her—in money laundering. Liam Nussbaum is a political blogger and analyst who has had a crush on Alyse since he met her, recognizing her flirtatious silliness as an act. When she asks him for help investigating the money trail, he can’t turn her down, and when Alyse is threatened, he can’t turn her away. He’s the only one with the influence to investigate the files, and the only one with the emotional understanding to support her. Barry provides a solid romance as well as a nonpartisan reminder that there is more to politics than the news cycles reveal. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Love to Call Her Own

Marilyn Pappano. Grand Central/Forever, $8 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-4555-2009-1

Pappano’s background as a military wife lends considerable authenticity in her deeply satisfying third visit to Tallgrass, Okla. (after A Man to Hold on To). Jessy Lawrence, whose husband was killed in Afghanistan, has hit rock bottom. A flirtatious encounter leads her to a one-night stand with rancher Dalton Smith, whose wife took her own life after being injured on an Afghan battlefield. Jessy and Dalton try to deny their chemistry at first—Jessy because she doesn’t feel she deserves love, Dalton because he refuses to be vulnerable again—but they slowly realize that they may have a future together. Pappano’s characters are achingly real and flawed, and readers will commiserate with and root for the couple. While many authors of military-themed romance focus on action in the field or the sexiness of the uniform, Pappano is bold enough to dig into far more painful territory: what happens after the casualty calls. This deeply moving tale will remind everyone who reads it of the great sacrifices made by those who serve and the families they leave behind. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Homecoming

Robyn Carr. Harlequin/Mira, $7.99 mass-market (352p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1644-2

The captivating sixth installment of Carr’s Thunder Point series (after The Promise) brings up big emotions in the tiny coastal Oregon hamlet. Hometown boy Seth Sileski left in triumph with a football scholarship and went on to play in the NFL—until a serious injury ended that dream forever. Iris McKinley, now a guidance counselor at the Thunder Point high school, is the girl he’s never been able to forget. When Seth returns to run the sheriff department substation in town, he can’t understand why his former friend is so icy, until Iris reveals a secret she’s carried around for years: in a drunken stupor in high school, Seth took Iris’s virginity. Seth, who has no memory of the encounter, is devastated by the revelation and is determined to make up for it, but Iris won’t accept his apology quickly. Carr’s gift for writing lovably flawed heroes and heroines is evident on every page, and she includes a host of enjoyable side characters and glimpses of the subjects of earlier books. While laying the groundwork for the next installment, she delivers a first-class happy ending. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Witch with No Name

Kim Harrison. Harper Voyager, $26.99 (480p) ISBN 978-0-06-195795-6

This epic conclusion to Harrison’s long-running Rachel Morgan series (after The Undead Pool) brings Rachel and her allies together for one final world-saving adventure. Rachel has found a way to reunite Cincinnati’s undead vampires with their souls, but that creates a schism between those who want their souls back and those convinced it’s a bad idea. With her best friend’s life at stake, Rachel pursues a desperate gambit that soon escalates into a war to decide the fate of the everafter and the futures of the demons, vampires, and elves. Harrison pulls together many threads established in previous installments, including Rachel’s long-simmering love/hate relationship with former enemy Trent Kalamack. The magical escapades are plentiful and profound, as Harrison goes for one final shake-up of the status quo, and they lead to a satisfying ending for almost everyone involved. A Rowlingesque peek into the future offers some last-minute surprises, and should be enough to satisfy any fan who’s followed Rachel’s journey from its beginning. Agent: Richard Curtis, Richard Curtis Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection

Jay Lake. Tor, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7798-2

The prolific Lake’s death in 2014, after a long, harrowing, and very public battle with cancer, gives extra weight to these 32 epitaphs. Lake’s command of language is strong and sincere, and his stories of everyday heartaches, filled with secret fears and self-delusion, whisk readers from inner geographies of mind to limitless gulfs of space. Lake’s characters emotionally embody the doomed heroism of Nordic gods sneering at grim fates, finding bittersweet redemption in dark byways of human ignorance. Reality is shattered when an alien controls a hardened mercenary’s dreams in the darkly romantic “Last Plane to Heaven: A Love Story.” Cynical humor greets oblivion in “The Speed of Time.” In surprisingly intelligent space opera (“Permanent Fatal Errors”) and a visit to the City Imperishable (“Promises”), revelations eschew oversentimentality for moral complexity. “Such Bright and Risen Madness in Our Names” injects pathos into the Cthulhu mythos, questioning identity and raising hackles. Malevolent faeries face metaphysical annihilation in a dying young woman’s cancer cells in “Her Fingers Like Whips, Her Eyes Like Razors.” And in “The Cancer Catechism,” Lake discovers faith in the inevitability of death. As he states, “In the end, words are all that survive us”; his fans and friends may find some comfort in the hope that his words will live on forever. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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