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Between the Living and the Dead: A Dan Rhodes Mystery

Bill Crider. Minotaur, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-03970-5

Sheriff Dan Rhodes, who made his debut in 1986's Too Late to Die, is still going strong in Crider's 22nd mystery featuring the Texas lawman (after 2014's Half in Love with Artful Death). A long-abandoned house in Clearview, Tex., has a reputation for being haunted, and that is grist for series regular C.P. Benton, who tells the sheriff he plans to open Clearview Paranormal Investigations. Reports of gunshots at the house lead Rhodes and Deputy Ruth Grady to the body of meth dealer Neil Foshee. Rhodes hunts for answers from the victim's cousins, Earl and Louie Foshee, who share Neil's interest in illegal drugs. The sheriff also has to deal with poor Elberta Hovey, who says she was robbed of $9 million, and Brad Turner, who wears a tinfoil hat for protection. A loose bull and wild hogs add to the fun. As always, Rhodes figures things out, but it's the journey that makes this amiable series so entertaining. Agent: Kim Lionetti, BookEnds. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Bone Swans

C.S.E. Cooney. Mythic Delirium (mythicdelirium.com), $15.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-9889124-4-1

Cooney’s brilliantly executed collection of five stories is a delicious stew of science fiction, horror, and fantasy, marked by unforgettable characters who plumb the depths of pathos and triumph. In “Life on the Sun,” sacrifice and rebirth are explored in a fantastical desert where future tech and wizardry mingle, as a mystical pharaoh-like figure forces a young rebel fighter to stoically embrace her fate. Children bravely battle to survive an adult-free, post-apocalyptic Earth in “The Big Ba-Ha,” even though they know their demise—hungrily anticipated by the ghoulish creatures that now share their world—is inevitable. In the title story, a macabre fairy tale told by a wisecracking lovesick rat, the Pied Piper exacts revenge on an ogre-enthralled village that’s guilty of the grisly extermination of shape-shifting swans. Cooney’s magical prose elicits laughter even as gruesome scenes induce shudders, and her expert pacing breathlessly buoys the reader to each story’s conclusion. All of these stories could easily serve as the foundation for novels while also working beautifully at their current length. These well-crafted narratives defiantly refuse to fade from memory long after the last word has been read. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Made for Us

Samantha Chase. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-1622-1

Chase (the Montgomery Brothers series) grabs readers by the heartstrings and reels them right into the antics of the lively Shaughnessy family: a father, five sons, one daughter, and their lingering memories of a mother who was killed in a car accident. Aiden, the eldest child, has always been bold, hardworking, and extremely protective of his family. He keeps all nonrelatives at bay until he meets Zoe Dalton, a fiery decorator who’s just as brazen as he is and has suffered just as much loss. When a hurricane crashes into their North Carolina coastal town and leaves them stranded together in a small apartment, Zoe and Aiden end up sharing more than flashlights and food. But after the storm clears and they are forced to rejoin the rest of the world, Aiden can’t deal with the changes to his orderly life and pushes Zoe away, even though she’s the only woman who’s ever been able to impress him both in and out of the bedroom. Chase excels at giving even the most minor character a unique voice, and she makes Zoe and Aiden work hard for their happy ending. Readers weary of shoehorned-in suspense plots will find this novel gratifying and realistic; it’s an uncluttered, perfectly paced look at two individuals trying to move forward after tragedy. Agent: Mark Gottlieb, Trident Media Group. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Other Son

Alexander Söderberg, trans. from the Swedish by Neil Smith. Crown, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-0-7704-3608-7

Stockholm nurse and single mother Sophie Brinkmann paid dearly for her romance with Hector Guzman—the seductive criminal she met when he landed in her hospital after being run down by a competing gang—in Söderberg’s acclaimed debut, The Andalucian Friend (2013). In this propulsive, Tarantino-esque sequel, Hector lies comatose after a second botched hit, and his associates have strong-armed Sophie into functioning as the Guzman syndicate’s mouthpiece to help maintain the illusion that Hector continues to run things. Sophie has to make some hard choices amid kidnappings, assassinations, and collateral damage to innocents, all of which mushroom as the remnants of the Guzman cartel come under fire from Colombian drug baron Don Ignacio Ramirez and the German Hanke brothers’ gang. Meanwhile, Tommy Jansson, a former associate of corrupt cop Gunilla Strandberg, embarks on a crime spree that threatens one of his few honest colleagues, dedicated Det. Insp. Antonia Miller. As the blood-splattered action accelerates across Europe and beyond, a shell-shocked Sophie tries to outmaneuver her adversaries with the help of a ragtag band of allies, including her first love, Jens, a smuggler. Readers won’t want this fast and furious—and fitfully funny—roller-coaster ride to end. Agent: Leyla Belle Drake, Salmonsson Agency (Sweden). (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Brush Back

Sara Paretsky. Putnam, $27.95 (480p) ISBN 978-0-399-16057-8

South Chicago provides the setting for MWA Grand Master Paretsky’s electrifying 18th novel featuring PI V.I. “Vic” Warshawski (after 2013’s Critical Mass). Vic thought she had left her old neighborhood—and her former teenage flame, Frank Guzzo—years ago, until he approaches her with a sensitive issue: his mother, Stella, just finished 25 years in prison for murdering Frank’s younger sister, Annie, and she’s now proclaiming her innocence. Reluctant to get involved—Stella always hated the Warshawski family—Vic agrees to look into the matter, but is floored when Stella accuses the detective’s beloved late cousin and Chicago hockey legend Boom-Boom (who was murdered in 1984’s Deadlock) of having a hand in Annie’s murder. Determined to clear Boom-Boom’s name, Vic throws herself into the investigation, which takes her into the murky political waters of her former stomping ground, with its back channels leading to the state’s highest echelons of power. Paretsky never shies from tackling social issues, and in this installment she targets political corruption without ever losing sight of her dogged sleuth’s very personal stake in the story. Author tour. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Take This Man

Neil Plakcy. Cleis (cleispress.com), $16.95 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-1-62778-085-8

These 16 erotic short stories, all set in a contemporary America that’s slowly getting used to same-sex marriages, feature committed male lovers keeping their romantic feelings alive, often in playful, thoughtful, and inventive ways. A number of the stories capture milestone moments, such as marriage proposals, wedding days, reunions after long absences, and compromises leading to deeper affection. Others address familiar challenges that come with long-term relationships. T.R. Verten’s “Strangers for the Night” and Jameson Dash’s “Table for Three” show couples spicing up their love lives with roleplay and ménage à trois, respectively. Both Brent Archer’s “A Ride Home” and Michael Bracken’s “Blue Heart” reflect on memories of first meetings segueing into loving appreciations of aging bodies. Plakcy’s own “A Riviera Wedding” explores some of the political ramifications of same-sex marriage: “You know how I feel... Marriage is for straight people.” Each story contains plenty of explicit lovemaking, with tender kisses galore. (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Flight from Death

Yasmine Galenorn. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-0-425-27215-2

Galenorn returns to her Otherworld universe with this rough and awkward opening series launch. Blue dragon Shimmer is exiled from the Dragon Reaches and winds up in Seattle. In human form, she works for the Fly by Night Magical Investigations Agency, which is run by a vampire named Alex. When one of Alex’s former friends calls them to touristy Port Townsend in northern Washington State, Shimmer gets to take on her first real case. What initially appears to be a simple haunting soon proves to be more, though the plotting is sloppy enough that the characters figure out the truth on three separate occasions. The cast grows to include a local witch, a jinni, and a spiritwalker, each of whom has one defining characteristic that gets repeated every time they interact with somebody new. Between an unfortunate use of a “Gypsy” curse as a plot element and the failure to reveal exactly what Shimmer did to get exiled, even Galenorn’s longtime fans will find this installment unsatisfying. Agent: Meredith Bernstein, Meredith Bernstein Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Heat of the Moment

Lori Handeland. St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-02013-0

Handeland’s second Sisters of the Craft paranormal romance (after In the Air Tonight) is engrossing but not as hard-edged as some of her earlier books. When veterinarian Becca Carstairs hears telepathic messages from animals, she thinks she’s going crazy. She’s also trying hard not to fall for Owen McAlister, a wounded military veteran who’s recovering in their tiny town of Three Harbors, Wisc., with the help of his canine partner, Reggie. Their intense connection ignites as they investigate gruesome acts of animal mutilation and a mysterious attempt on Becca’s life, which was thwarted by a helpful wolf named Prudence. Characters from Handeland’s Nightcreature series provide long-arc context on the involvement of the evil Venatores Mali, but their numbers mostly add noise. Animal companions such as Prudence, Reggie, and Grenade the kitten delight without cloying; less successful is an abrupt late shift in how Becca’s views her relationship with her parents. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Promise of Forever

Marilyn Pappano. Grand Central/Forever, $8 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6156-8

Pappano blends a realistic vision of returning soldiers with a tender love story in her low-key fourth Tallgrass contemporary (after A Love to Call Her Own). After five tours in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, Sgt. First Class Avi Grant is more than ready to focus on her future, which includes a safer post stateside. But first, she has a sad duty to complete: visiting the widow of her beloved mentor, Col. George Sanderson, in Tallgrass, Okla. Avi is still carrying a heavy load of survivor’s guilt when she meets George’s stepson, Dr. Ben Noble. The sexy surgeon has no intention of falling for a career soldier, especially since he never forgave George for whisking his mother away from her children and first husband. As Avi and Ben fall hard and fast, they’re up against two immovable deadlines: Avi’s month of leave, which will end with her taking up a teaching post in Georgia, and the years left on her enlistment. With her trademark blend of the heartbreaking and heartwarming, Pappano skillfully helps Avi and Ben overcome their respective fears, providing hints of future couples along the way. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Exit Strategy

Lena Diaz. Avon, $5.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-234908-8

Romantic suspense author Diaz (the Deadly Games series) launches a series with this fast-paced and completely unlikely tale of pursuit. Sabrina Hightower moves to North Carolina to investigate the deaths of her brother and parents, as well as the mysterious disappearance of her grandfather. Before she makes any progress, she’s attacked by sexy assassin Mason Hunt. He never fails to take out his target, but when he realizes that Sabrina is not actually a terrorist, he snatches her in an effort to protect her from his employer, EXIT Inc., a well-intentioned but completely disorganized company of vigilantes. Once they’re on the run together from EXIT, Sabrina is improbably Mason’s match in valor and marksmanship, even without her glasses. Her skill is a powerful aphrodisiac that leads to romance despite the relentless pursuit that interrupts every clinch. The complete absence of a believable plot or convincing characters will not prevent fans of romantic thrillers from enjoying this sizzling, jeopardy-filled chase. Agent: Nalini Akolekar, Spencerhill Associates. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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