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The Big Book of Jack the Ripper

Edited by Otto Penzler. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, $25 trade paper (864p) ISBN 978-1-101-97113-0

Penzler’s ambitious sixth Big Book (after 2015’s The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories) appropriately deviates from the template of earlier volumes, given its focus on a real-life criminal. The opening section, “The True Story,” gathers primary sources, like witness statements and autopsy reports, contemporary newspaper accounts of the murders, and George Bernard Shaw’s legendary letter to the editor of the Star newspaper decrying the horrific living conditions in Whitechapel. The bulk of the book provides a comprehensive selection of Ripper-inspired fiction, including such well-known works as Marie Belloc Lowndes’s “The Lodger” (presented in both its original short story form and later novel version) and Robert Bloch’s “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper.” But as with previous Big Books, Penzler’s dogged research has enabled him to include undeservedly obscure stories as well, such as R. Chetwynd-Hayes’s creepy “The Gatecrasher” and Isak Dinesen’s “The Uncertain Heiress.” High-quality tales original to this volume, from such 21st-century masters as Daniel Stashower, Lyndsay Faye, and Jeffery Deaver, are another bonus. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Longest Road: The Whinburg Township Amish

Adina Senft. Moonshell Books, $4.99 e-book (360p) ISBN 978-1-939087-49-2

Senft’s (Balm of Gilead) novel begins on a late November day 13 years ago, with two little Amish girls and their older brother Samuel going walnut picking. When Samuel runs into friends and becomes distracted, the young girls disappear, never to be seen again. Samuel cannot recover from his guilt and abandons his home and the Amish community, leaving their mother, Rebecca Riehl, with three empty place settings at her dinner table “until God in his wisdom and mercy did bring them back.” Meanwhile Megan and Ashley Pearson grow up thinking they have no connection to the missing girls, but Megan is plagued by nightmares that indicate a mystery in her past. While Ashley is eager to enter college, Megan spends her days gaming and working at a coffee bar. The girls’ identity is divulged early in the book, with their mother, Janet, revealing where they were found in the woods; faced with this newfound truth, Megan is eager to hit the road to discover their true family while Ashley reluctantly comes along. In this first book of a new series, Senft, a prolific author of 36 books, has crafted an appealing tale of searching for one’s true identity. There is also an interesting study of the two mothers and how they have coped—one with her loss, the other with her guilt, and the role of faith in that process. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Child of the River

Irma Joubert. Thomas Nelson, $15.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-7180-8310-6

Persomi is a sharecropper’s child living in South Africa during WWII. Working on the wealthy Fourie farm, Persomi desperately seeks to be like the “real” children who are able to live free lives in their own homes. Reading about the war and politics in the newspapers from the Big House keeps her mind off her poor circumstances. She is also consumed with figuring out the identity of her true father, a secret her mother has vowed to take to the grave. When Persomi has the chance to go to the same boarding school that her brother attended, she leaves the life she had always known for a place where she must learn new rules and practices—studying, socializing, even how to eat with a fork. Leaning on the strength of her friend Boelie, the son and heir of Mr. Fourie, Persomi excels in her education, studying law and politics. When the feelings between Persomi and Boelie grow, Persomi discovers information that shatters her world before she can even step into it. Joubert (The Girl from the Train) once again demonstrates a knack for stringing believable, interesting characters through a historical South African landscape. Not just a sweet romantic novel, Joubert’s book is a testament to the value of hard work and perseverance. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Wild Montana Skies

Susan May Warren. Revell, $14.99 ISBN 978-0-8007-2743-7

Warren (Christiansen Family series) begins a new series in roaring fashion with this romance set against the backdrop of fictional Mercy Falls, Mont. When the local search and rescue team needs a new pilot because of the unseasonably flooding Mercy River, they call in military hero Kacey Fairing. Returning to her hometown won’t be easy after 12 years in the army as a helicopter pilot, especially as she tries to reconnect with her teenage daughter and to fight the effects of PTSD. It’s even harder when she realizes Ben King is also in town—the country star returned to help his ailing father recuperate and to reevaluate his music career. When Kacey walks back into his life, the feelings he had in high school start to resurface: love for her, yet anger at her for giving up their daughter for adoption. As floodwaters make it difficult for a group of youth campers to return to town, Ben and Kacey must put aside their past to help those stuck on the mountain trail. Though the story does attempt to dive into such deep issues as combat trauma, premarital sex, selling out, and adoption, Warren doesn’t spend enough time on any of the issues to take them to realistic depth. This first book in the Montana Rescue series introduces the audience to weighty themes and notable characters who will no doubt get a chance at their own happy ending in future books. Agent: Steve Laube, the Steve Laube Agency (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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From This Day Forward

Lauraine Snelling. Bethany, , $14.99 ISBN 978-0-7642-1107-2

Snelling (Streams of Mercy) completes her Song of Blessing series with a fourth book following the day-to-day activities of the inhabitants of Blessing, N.D., a town filled with Norwegian immigrants, including the members of the Bjorkund family. In this entry, Snelling focuses heavily on Deborah MacCallister, a supervising nurse at the local hospital who laments being single in a town where “All the others have married... some even twice.” Toby Valders periodically takes notice of Deborah, stoking her hopes, but he usually seems oblivious to her overtures. The women of Blessing take on the mission of getting Deborah and Toby married by December, but Toby continues his indifference despite their best efforts at matchmaking. Plodding along at a slow pace, Snelling finds a way to invoke conflict when an immediate attraction develops between Deborah and the new teacher at the school for the deaf. Though this book works as a standalone, the vast array of characters and the multiple references to their backstories may be confusing to those who have not read any of Snelling’s previous 20 books about the Bjorklunds. Agent: Wendy Lawton, Books & Such (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Christmas Tree Keeper

Tamara Passey. Winter Street, $12.99 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-0-9909840-6-1

Angela Donovan, the heroine of Passey’s innocuous debut contemporary, is a single mother, down on her luck but anxious to make Christmas memorable for her eight-year-old daughter, Caroline. When Angela and her daughter visit a local Christmas tree farm, they meet the elderly owner, who promises that each of his trees comes with a miracle; this delights Caroline but annoys her skeptical mother. Angela is mortified when someone pays for her tree and suspects Mark Shafer, the heir to the tree farm. But Mark has problems of his own: he is interested in a music career, and he and his lovely girlfriend do not want the burden of inheriting the farm, but negotiating with a developer distresses his family and makes him feel guilty. When things get worse for both Angela and Mark, their unexpected friendship helps them find their faith and weather some challenging times. Readers can do better in the annual pilgrimage for holiday stories: the family tree farm provides a piquant setting, but the main characters come across as self-centered and one dimensional, and even a Christmas miracle doesn’t render them very appealing. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Destiny Lingers

Rolanda Watts. iUniverse, $27.95 (266p) ISBN 978-1-4917-6864-8

When Destiny Newell Nelson finds strands of red hair on her husband’s pillow, she immediately suspects that he is having an affair with their friend Eve. Before she can confront him, the stresses of her job as a television journalist send her from Harlem to her childhood summer home on Topsail Island, N.C., where her aunt Joy is waiting with comfort and her parents with criticism. Amid the wreckage of her marriage and the strains of dealing with family, Destiny reconnects with Chase McKenzie, her childhood crush, who’s now the town’s chief of police, and does her best to decide what she wants out of life. Her parents, who were two of Topsail Island’s first black residents, think Destiny should steer clear of Chase, who’s white; she retorts that it’s not his fault he “grew up the poor boy of racist parents.” The narrative is one of self-discovery more than romance; Destiny’s emotional connections are the basis of the plot, but her relationship with her parents is given as much weight as her relationships with her husband and Chase. Occasionally inconsistent characterizations and oddly stilted dialogue are forgivable in Watts’s debut, since it so powerfully depicts racism and classism, as well as love lost and regained. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Kingmaker: A Powerplay Novel

Selena Laurence. CP Writes, $3.99 e-book (249p) ASIN B01BXUKUMS

Finely tuned political intrigue meets intense sexual chemistry when Washington, D.C., power broker Derek Ambrose catches presidential candidate Jason Melville, one of his clients, having too good a time with London Sharpe, a high-priced escort. Derek is willing to pay a bundle to convince London to stay out of Jason’s life, but soon Derek is obsessing over her himself. She’s happy to take the money and run, since a scandal could ruin her own carefully constructed double life. No one in London’s social circle knows where her money comes from, and in order to stay in business she needs to keep it that way. So when a reporter learns that London spent an afternoon in Jason’s hotel suite, everybody has a lot to lose, and there is only one way to save the day. Laurence’s tightly woven story is a superb mix of sexual and political tension that’s certain to please fans of both. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Places in My Heart

Sheryl Lister. Kimani, $6.50 mass market (224p) ISBN 978-0-373-86470-6

In Lister’s unsatisfying second Grays of Los Angeles contemporary (after Tender Kisses), attorney Morgan Gray finally gets a chance at her dream career of being a sports agent, putting her at odds with the original plan of her staying in the family business. Morgan knows football as well as the players do; however, being a woman makes it difficult for her to break into the business. Then football star Omar Drummond hires Morgan to replace his agent, whom he suspected of embezzlement. She proves to be a fierce negotiator who doesn’t indulge in league politics, and Omar feels her physical beauty only enhances her intelligence. His gentlemanly nature soon thwarts Morgan’s plans to keep their relationship strictly professional, but the tabloids are eager to portray him as a philanderer, and Morgan doesn’t want her career to be tainted by gossip of sexual favors, so they attempt to keep the relationship secret until after he signs his contract. The emotional conflict is based on a double standard—Morgan demands unquestioning trust from Omar but refuses to give him the same—and lacks any real depth, and it’s difficult for readers to empathize with the cranky, unyielding heroine. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Bind

Sierra Cartwright. Totally Bound, $12.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-78651-854-5

Cartwright kicks off her Donovan Dynasty erotic contemporary series, set in Houston, Tex., with a reasonably strong union between a traditional setup—a heroine offering herself to save her family’s legacy and a hero who refuses to believe in love—and her hardcore brand of BDSM erotica, which is not for the novice reader. Lara Bertrand knows that her father’s refusal to modernize their family’s (rather vaguely described) enormous conglomerate will destroy it, so she offers to enter into a temporary, in-name-only marriage with business mogul Connor Donovan, her friend’s brother, if he agrees to save the company. He makes a counteroffer: he’ll do it if she lives with him, sleeps with him, and submits to him sexually. Connor consistently treats Lara with care and introduces her to erotic dominance in intense scenes; she’s skeptical at first, but soon finds that submission fulfills her. Connor’s satisfying but last-minute moment of emotional awakening helps mitigate his earlier obtuseness about matters of the heart. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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