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Stillwater: A Jack McBride Mystery

Melissa Lenhardt. Skyhorse, $24.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-63450-226-9

Fans of romantic mysteries will appreciate Lenhardt's sentimental debut, the first in a series starring Jack McBride, a former FBI agent. Having left the Bureau under a cloud, Jack has moved to Stillwater, Tex., with his 13-year-old son, Ethan, to become the small town's police chief. On Jack's first day on the job, he must deal with the murder/suicide of a married couple. Or are the killings actually a disguised double murder? Meanwhile, Ethan suffers through his first day at school while pained from not knowing why his mother didn't also relocate to Stillwater. When Jack later flirts with Ellie Martin, the bank manager he meets about his financial arrangements, Ellie is initially alarmed, but then she flirts back, as Jack ponders how soft and silky her hair appears. Ethan's difficulties in making new friends, assorted domestic tensions between Ethan and Jack, and Jack's dogged wooing of Ellie overshadow Jack's crime-solving efforts. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Evergreen Springs

RaeAnne Thayne. HQN, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-373-78859-0

Second chances abound in Thayne's third contemporary set in small Haven Point, Id. (after Redemption Bay). Former rodeo rider and ex-con Cole Barrett is reviving the family ranch, and his two kids are learning to live with him after their mother's death. Cole also has to take care of his pregnant sister, Tricia. In the background is his resentment that his own father didn't stick around during his childhood. Family physician Devin Shaw steps into the middle of all the anger, disappointment, and tension, spreading joy and warmth everywhere she goes. Unfortunately she's just too perfect: she moonlights at the ER, teaches yoga to senior citizens, and volunteers with a charity. Even her substantial past medical troubles don't do much to humanize her. Cole is human enough for both of them, though: standoffish, slow to trust, and quick to hold a grudge. Watching him learn about forgiveness is much more satisfying than the tepid romance story line. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Long, Tall Christmas

Janet Dailey. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3509-1

Dailey's standalone contemporary western never quite hits its stride. Kylie takes her children home to the small town of Branding Iron, Tex. She hopes to repair her life, but feels helpless without a man around. When a series of poor decisions threatens to ruin Christmas for her children, only former bad boy Shane can save her. Needing rescue isn't a new theme for romance, but Kylie's errors range from bafflingly careless (burning cookies) to entirely inexcusable (browbeating her children at every opportunity). Dailey (Santa in Montana) makes Kylie so inept that it imbalances the power dynamic with Shane, who does everything right: he gave up his life to take care of his dad, helps elderly neighbors, and immediately tames Kylie's rebellious son. The compressed time line of three days around Christmas leaves this chaste romance rushing to hit an abrupt happy ending that doesn't satisfy. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Silver Wolf Christmas

Terry Spear. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0950-6

Spear's 17th Heart of the Wolf paranormal (after SEAL Wolf Hunting) sticks close to a reliable formula. Having settled in as deputy sheriff of Silver Town, Colo., CJ Silver feels safe and comfortable enough to seek a mate. Laurel MacTire and her sisters are new in town, renovating the old hotel and uncovering the town's secrets. The MacTire sisters are investigating the disappearance of a relative, and soon they turn up a series of duplicities and convolutions among the living and the dead. Though most of Silver Town's inhabitants are werewolves, all suggestions of paranormal adventure are resolved through ordinary means, robbing many moments of their haunting appeal. Spear's characters are harmless and likable, though a trifle quick-tempered, but structural problems and too much focus on mundane details slow the pace to the point of tedium. The Christmastime conclusion is endearing but predictable. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Marry Me at Christmas

Susan Mallery. HQN, $17.99 trade paperback (336p) ISBN 978-0-373-78850-7

Mallery's fun and inviting 19th novel set in Fool's Gold, Calif. (after Thrill Me) richly layers deft characterization onto a charming, interconnected community. When bridal shop owner Madeline Krug agrees to plan a wedding for a local groom and his out-of-town bride, she ends up working side by side with the bride's brother, movie star Jonny Blaze. Jonny craves solitude and loves the tiny town, but he doesn't expect to fall hard for a girl-next-door type. After Madeline gets over being starstruck, she falls in love with Jonny for himself. The only question is whether she can handle the ramifications of his fame. Series fans will love this glittering installment. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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All Wrapped Up

Kimberly Kincaid. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (344p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3771-2

Kincaid's fifth and final Pine Mountain contemporary (after Fire Me Up), set in Pennsylvania's Blue Ridge Mountains, opens with bar owner Nick Brennan running into a burning building to rescue a child. The townspeople laud him as a hero, but recognition is the last thing Nick wants. Reporter Ava Mancuso, the only woman Nick has ever loved, is assigned to get the whole story out of him, seven years after she left him to protect her own secrets. Faced with the choice of getting the hottest scoop in the area or losing her job, Ava has to convince Nick to open up to her in more ways than one. The story lacks any real surprises and borders on clichéd, but it still makes a nice little gift for the holidays. Agent: Maureen Walters, Curtis Brown Ltd. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Secrets She Kept

Cathy Gohlke. Tyndale, $14.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-4964-0080-2

In a small North Carolina mountain town in the early 1970s, Hannah Sterling struggles with questions of forgiveness after her mother's death. Taking leave from her job as a high school teacher, Hannah rummages through her emotionally distant mother's old home, only to find letters connecting her grandfather to the Nazi party. Hannah embarks on a journey through Germany to uncover the secrets of her family's past, a task her octogenarian grandfather and his close associate are only too eager to block. Told from both Hannah's viewpoint and that of her mother as a young woman, this well-researched epic depicts life under the Nazi regime with passionate attention. While the Sterling family story serves as a warning about digging into the past, it is also a touching example of the healing power of forgiveness and the rejuvenating power of faith. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Miracle Drug

Richard L. Mabry. Abingdon Press, $14.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1630881184

Politics and health clumsily collide with heavy religiosity in the ninth medical thriller from Mabry (after Fatal Trauma). Dr. Josh Pearson never expected to be awarded the honor of serving as personal physician to former U.S. president David Madison. However, after his colleague Ben Lambert dies during a visit to Colombia with Madison, Josh inherits the position, along with the mystery of a potentially fatal illness contracted by his newest patient. Not only is Madison afflicted, but Josh's girlfriend, nurse Rachel Moore, is also infected. When Ben's body goes missing, Josh must race against time to track down a treatment for an almost unknown disease, and find a killer. Improbable coincidences abound during the fevered quest for a cure. Moments of plot brilliance are frequently overshadowed by an almost academic style of writing. The premise is intriguing, but its potential is lost in overly complex conspiracies, virtually irrelevant red herrings, and the uneven application of religious tenets. Agent: Rachelle Gardner, Books & Such Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Alice

Christina Henry. Ace, $15 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-425-26679-3

In this remix of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Henry (the Black Wings novels) comes closer to Alan Moore's Lost Girls than to Disney in content, though her work lacking his originality and depth. When Alice was 16, she went to a party in a slum in the Old City, from which she returned raped, scarred, and babbling about someone called the Rabbit. This got her locked away in an insane asylum in an unnamed city that resembles Victorian London. Her only friend is the axe murderer in the adjoining cell, whose exploits have earned him the nickname the Hatcher. He knows that the asylum's basement is the prison of a force of dark magic called the Jabberwock. When fire destroys the building, Alice and Hatcher must traverse the Old City and force its peculiar denizens to help stop the Jabberwock, while the Rabbit haunts Alice's memories. Henry's world is rife with sexual violence and brutality, and her characters have all been seen before many, many times. The tremulous sweetness of the relationship between Alice and Hatcher is the book's high point, but among so much grime it hardly has a chance to shine. Agent: Lucienne Diver, Knight Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Price of Valor

Django Wexler. Roc, $26.95 (528p) ISBN 978-0-451-41808-1

Wexler's third Shadow Campaigns military fantasy (after The Shadow Throne) moves the ascent of General Janus bet Vhalnich forward while increasing concerns that he might have a hidden agenda. The land of Vordan is both at war and dealing with threats from within. A bomb nearly goes off under Queen Raesina; she'd have survived, thanks to the demon that protects her, but that revelation would be devastating to her reign, so Vhalnich assigns Marcus d'Ivoire to guard Raesina while she pretends to leave the city. Winter Ihernglass, still disguised as a man, is leading the Girls' Own, the all-female regiment of the army, but her orders from Vhalnich may damage her relationship with her girlfriend, Jane. Maurisk, Raesina's former ally from her days as a student radical, might be responsible for the conspiracies they face, and is certainly a political threat now that he's gained some level of power. Wexler continues to nicely mix spycraft, political intrigue, and sorcery in his fascinating fantasy setting. This is definitely not a good starting point for new readers, but returning ones will be delighted that the story is clearly far from over. Agent: Seth Fishman, Gernert Company. (July)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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