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The Dark Heart of Florence

Michele Giuttari, trans. from the Italian by Howard Curtis and Isabelle Kaufeler. Abacus (IPG, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-349-13933-3

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Chief Supt. Michele Ferrara faces both a cunning killer and a maze of bureaucratic ineptitude in his exciting sixth outing, a direct sequel to The Black Rose of Florence. After 75-year-old Sen. Enrico Costanza, an important politician and a Freemason, is found shot to death in his Jacuzzi with his eyeballs gouged out, a killer calling himself “Genius” releases a taunting video. Coming on the heels of the sensational murders committed by a serial killer in the previous book, including that of society scion Giovanna Innocenti, Costanza’s slaying attracts much press attention. As Ferrara and his able team investigate every possible lead, he’s warned off the Freemason track and ordered to make some minor arson attacks his focus. With his career at risk, Ferrara presses on in the face of more deaths, more taunts, and a surprising tie to the earlier crimes. Giuttari, who once headed the Florence police force, smoothly ratchets up the suspense. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Black Rose of Florence

Michele Giuttari, trans. from the Italian by Howard Curtis. Abacus (IPG, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (464p) ISBN 978-0-349-00011-4

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n Giuttari’s absorbing fifth mystery featuring Chief Supt. Michele Ferrara (after Death in Calabria), Ferrara’s wife shows him a threatening note she found in their mailbox that reads: “We’re coming for you and your...” Ferrara suspects that the message may have stemmed from his work on the Monster of Florence case, which he was forced to abandon. Before he can pursue those suspicions, Ferrara lands a high-profile—and bizarre—new case: the nude, strangled corpse of 36-year-old Giovanna Innocenti, the daughter of “internationally renowned Florentine entrepreneurs,” is found in her Florence apartment, handcuffed to the bed, with a “long-stemmed artificial black rose” placed between her legs. The letter and the murder prove to be connected after Ferrara’s anonymous correspondent sends him another note, which states: “Soon the roses will bloom again and the hooded ones will take leave of their senses.” Giuttari does a good job of fostering an atmosphere of menace, with powerful dark forces operating behind the scenes. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Black River

S.M. Hulse. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24 (240p) ISBN 978-0-544-30987-6

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This top-of-the-line modern American Western debut explores the themes of violence, revenge, and forgiveness with a sure hand. Security guard Wes Carver, age 60, lives in Spokane, Wash., with his wife, Claire. When she dies after a lengthy battle with leukemia, he fulfills her request to transport her ashes to their first home of Black River in the Montana outback. His 34-year-old stepson, Dennis Boxer, a successful farrier, puts up Wes at the old homestead despite the history of acrimony between the two men. Black River is a “prison town” where the majority of its residents are employed by the Montana State Prison operating there. Two decades before, when Wes lived in Black River and worked as a correctional officer, a prison riot erupted, led by sadistic thug Bobby Williams, and Williams tortured the captive Wes for 39 hours before rescuers arrived. Williams, who has been a born-again Christian and model inmate since the riot, is coming up for parole, and Wes intends to speak in opposition to it. Meantime, Wes, also a man of faith, has a moral struggle over accepting the sincerity of his former tormentor’s religious conversion. Events take a darker, more tragic turn before any hope for a resolution can arise. From the bluegrass theme to the Western rural setting, Hulse handles his story like a pro. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Bad Romeo

Leisa Rayven. St. Martin’s Griffin, $14.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-06327-4

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Rayven’s debut adult contemporary romance shows some skill with prose, but gets lost in its own tangled plot. Cassie Taylor, a young actress making her debut on Broadway, learns that her emotionally constipated ex, Ethan Holt, has been cast as her leading man. Their torrid college affair began when they played Romeo and Juliet together, and Cassie doesn’t want to give Ethan another chance to break her heart. But Ethan is determined to show Cassie that he’s changed, and that onstage chemistry can lead to offstage happiness. As their relationship in the present progresses, a separate thread portrays the painful self-destruction of their previous connection. Rayven creates a plausible snapshot of two overdramatic, psychologically damaged people unable to get over one another or to make their relationship work, but both Cassie and Ethan are so wounded, vicious, and unpleasant that the theoretically happy ending is completely unbelievable—and undesirable. Agent: Christina Hogrebe, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Only for You

Beth Kery. Berkley, $16 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-425-26614-4

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Kery’s third One Night of Passion contemporary (after Exposed to You) combines sizzling heat with a cozy vibe. Seth Hightower parlayed his Army intelligence disguise skills into a career as a top Hollywood makeup artist. When up-and-coming actress Gia Harris seeks refuge at a party, their chance encounter ignites into a night of sex as hot as it’s spontaneous. Two and a half years later, Gia’s career is skyrocketing. When she becomes a prosecution witness for the trial of a cult leader and a possible target for his followers, the district attorney asks Seth to keep her hidden. Seth doesn’t trust actresses, and Gia doesn’t appreciate his assumptions about her, but he reluctantly agrees, disguising her as a boy and spiriting her away to a forest retreat. But they can’t deny their chemistry as their refuge turns into an exploration of every kind of intimacy. Suspense-seeking readers will be disappointed, but those who relish domestic eroticism with a kinky yet tender trajectory will be satisfied. Agent: Robin Rue, Writer’s House. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Bold Tricks

Karina Halle. Grand Central/Forever, $8 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4555-5222-1

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Halle’s three-book tale of a tattoo artist and a former con artist concludes with this superlative installment (after Shooting Scars). Ex-scammer Ellie Watt is in Mexico trying to free her parents from the clutches of drug dealer Travis, with the help of Javier, a cartel leader, and her boyfriend, Camden McQueen. The journey across Mexico is fraught with danger; the three are constantly trying to elude Travis’s henchmen and must use deadly force to defend themselves. Death and destruction seem to follow Ellie everywhere she goes, and she is forced to employ her instincts for survival if she wants to save those she loves. Ellie also wants to convince Camden that she still loves him even though she and Javier were once lovers. The romance sizzles as Halle reveals Ellie’s tenacity and strength. This installment is the best of the three, with a plethora of twists and turns and betrayals that will take readers on a nail-biting ride of suspense. Agent: Scott Waxman, Waxman Literary Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Razed

Shiloh Walker. Berkley Sensation, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-0-425-27390-6

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Picking up where 2013’s Wrecked left off, Walker switches focus to tattoo artist Keelie Jessup, who unexpectedly falls for photographer Zane Barnes after an electrifying encounter leaves them both reeling with attraction. Eventually, Zane overcomes Keelie’s fear of commitment, enabling the two to start a hot and heavy relationship that surprises friends and family alike. But they both have intense issues to work through, including Keelie’s traumatic past and Zane’s overprotective nature. The story takes a dark turn as they confront their personal demons, but with the help of Zane’s meddling siblings, they might just find their way to a happy ending. Walker builds her story around a passionate, convincing romance, and fleshes it out with memorable characters and a healthy dose of steamy, sensual interaction that’s satisfying on an emotional and visceral level. The narrative turns edgy once Walker delves into her protagonists’ histories, with allusions to violence and sexual assault that some readers may find off-putting. However, Keelie’s inner strength and Zane’s compassion make them a couple worth rooting for. Agent: Rachel Ekstrom, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Kaleidoscope

Kristen Ashley. Grand Central/Forever, $7 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-4555-9916-5

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Ashley returns to Gnaw Bone, Colo., in this solid sixth installment of her Colorado Mountain series (after Jagged). Jacob “Deck” Decker hasn’t seen Emme Holmes in the nine years since he broke up with her best friend. When they meet again in Gnaw Bone, he’s amazed to see her in stylish clothes and highlighted hair that amplify the understated beauty he admired all those years ago. Emme is now living in Gnaw Bone and has a new boyfriend, Dane McFarland—and Deck soon learns some disturbing truths about Dane. As Deck and Emme grow closer, their relationship is threatened by the ghosts of Emme’s past. But Deck believes that Emme is the only woman for him and refuses to give up on their relationship despite the roadblocks she puts in his way. The scintillating sex scenes are plentiful and graphic. Deck is portrayed as a very macho take-charge male, but his desire to care for and protect Emme makes him a winning protagonist who is evenly matched with Emme and her independent but sweet personality. Agent: Emily Kim, Prospect Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Chef’s Table

Lynn Charles. Interlude (www.interlude-
press.com), $15.99 trade paper (278p) ISBN 978-1-941530-17-7

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Charles’s sweet debut contemporary doesn’t offer quite enough drama to support its length, but it offsets that drawback with a delightful pair of protagonists. Il Boschetto executive chef Evan Stanford takes his staff to Johnny’s Diner to enjoy being on the culinary receiving end for a change. Diner cook Patrick Sullivan catches Evan’s attention by offering him an unusual Irish side dish. Evan is purposeful, driven, and acclaimed—and feeling uninspired by the limitations of his work at Il Boschetto. Patrick is also passionate and enthusiastic about food, but he’s willing to be satisfied with “good enough.” The men’s attraction blooms into romance in short order, but they have plenty of obstacles to negotiate around. The novel’s structure echoes a menu, from aperitif to digestif, and the food descriptions and antics of friends, family, and co-workers add spice beyond the central romance. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Ever After of Ella and Micha

Jessica Sorensen. Grand Central/Forever, $13 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-4555-8266-2

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Sorenson’s fourth Secret erotic contemporary scrambles to tie up loose ends from previous installments while giving the title couple their hour in the spotlight. Ella begins her series of confusing decisions by leaving Micha at the altar. Micha makes his first show of endless patience when he agrees to postpone the wedding until Christmas, when they can have the ceremony at their childhood home. Several glimpses into the past are shown through the exploration of Ella’s mother’s journal, the discovery of which prompted the sudden change in wedding plans. Flashback sequences illuminate portions of Micha and Ella’s shared history, but these detours steal most of the focus from the present day, making this novel paradoxically lugubrious despite intense emotion and sizzling erotic interludes. The best part is the satisfying resolution, which does feel earned through effort and commitment. Agent: Erica Silverman, Trident Media Group. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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