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His to Protect

Stacey Lynn. Loveswept, $2.99 e-book (225p) ISBN 978-1-101-96796-6

The second in the Fireside series (after His to Love) pulls in characters from the first book and ends with a cliff-hanger that sets up the love story of the next, in the process creating a strong sense of the Detroit neighborhood community that supports the characters. Declan Moore, the owner of the Fireside Grill, is instantly drawn to protect the woman he finds feeding her dog out of his restaurant’s dumpster. Trina Wilson, running from her powerful and abusive husband, is reluctant to trust any man, but she can’t resist the offer of a hot meal and a bed to sleep in. Trina’s husband is still looking for her, though, and as Declan and Trina get closer, Trina gets more anxious about staying in Detroit, all too close to the home she fled in Kentucky. The alternating points of view create windows into the characters’ motivations, and the reader will be gripped by Trina’s fear of her husband and Declan’s compassion and anger on her behalf. The final showdown feels a bit contrived, but the personalities and prose shine through the formula. Agent: Michelle Johnson, Inklings Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Into the Blue

Pene Henson. Interlude, $16.99 trade paper (236p) ISBN 978-1-941530-84-9

In this warmhearted Hawaii-based contemporary romance, pro surfer Ollie makes his grand return two years after an injury, and his best friend, Tai, is right where he’s always been: at Ollie’s side, pushing him to do his best. When a wildcard tournament held on their home turf leads to a spot in the Surfing World Championship Tour, Ollie knows exactly whom he wants for his support crew. As the two travel together, their feelings for each other become deeper and more complicated, but both worry what their burgeoning physical intimacy might mean for the family of housemates that they have cobbled together. When they return home from the tour, their individual lives blossom in unexpected and rewarding ways, but fear and uncertainty keep them from asking for what they want the most. The plausibility of the miscommunications and the realism of the young men’s relationship and personalities are exceptional. Readers eager for more diversity in romance will appreciate the nuanced portrayals of the leads (one gay, one demisexual) and the women they live with (one bisexual, one asexual) but may wish that Tai’s Samoan heritage and its meaning for him had been explored, rather than just repeatedly referred to in passing. (July)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Turbulent Intentions

Melody Anne. Amazon/Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (297p) ISBN 978-1-5039-3668-3

The Billionaire Aviators contemporary series, which follows the romantic lives of four wealthy brothers who cannot inherit their father’s fortune unless they marry, gets off to a slow start. Cooper Armstrong, a pilot who’s also the CEO of his own airline, is already cynical about women by his mid-20s, in spite of his parents’ strong marriage. When he meets and beds a blond beauty after a wedding, he readily agrees to remain anonymous. Six years later, he orders coffee from Stormy Halifax—her hair now brown—at the SeaTac airport coffee shop, and she is hurt by his failure to recognize her from that one-night stand. Cooper’s uncle meddles, Stormy becomes Cooper’s temporary roommate, and it’s only a matter of time before their sexual chemistry and her anger at being forgotten combust. Anne (Her Forever Hero) brings little that’s new to the mix of rich hero and down-on-her-luck heroine. The writing clanks, the characters are dull, Cooper and Stormy’s attitudes are inconsistent and illogical, and their arguments substitute as (loud) foreplay. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Must Love Wieners

Casey Griffin. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-08467-5

Griffin’s diverting rom-com debut stretches believability, but that probably won’t matter to dog lovers in general and dachshund fans in particular. Piper Summers, a 26-year-old San Francisco taxi driver, also delivers pizzas and performs fully costumed singing telegrams. When not working to pay her veterinary college tuition and rent, she volunteers at the Dachshund Rescue Center, where the pooches love her. But nobody loves Piper more than her constant companion and guard dog, Colin. During a singing telegram performance gone wrong, Piper meets investment billionaire Aiden Caldwell, and he finds every excuse under the sun to be near her. Unfortunately it isn’t long before the zany circumstances of their first encounter—zaniness being a common occurrence in Piper’s life—metamorphose into menacing threats to life, limb, and romance. Charm-on-wheels Piper and her pal Colin are enough to carry papier-mâché Aiden and a semi-plausible plot. Agent: Pooja Menon, Kimberley Cameron & Associates. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Shift

Sidney Bristol. Kensington/Zebra Shout, $4.99 mass market (359p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3923-5

An FBI agent falls for one of his team members, who has an assassin hot on her trail, in Bristol’s smart second Hot Rides contemporary romantic thriller (after Drive). Emery Martin is leading a team of undercover operatives working as mechanics at Classic Rides, a muscle-car restoration garage in Miami. After completing the primary objective of bringing in a major player in the Miami drug market, Emery believes that their mission is almost complete. Then he learns that there is a hit out on two members of his team, Tori and Roni Chazov, daughters of a KGB spy who became a U.S. informant. Roni is out of town, but Tori and Emery must frequently change locations to keep the assassins off their trail, and their mutual attraction ignites into one night of intense passion. Emery can’t get Tori out of his system, and he must do all he can to protect her before the assassins find them. The suspense is as captivating as the romance, with plenty of surprising twists and turns along the way to the satisfying conclusion. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymour Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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In the Barren Ground

Loreth Anne White. Amazon/Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (435p) ISBN 978-1-5039-3623-2

In this exhilarating contemporary thriller with a dusting of romance, a young constable in the Mounties fights for her place and soon finds herself hunting a brutal killer in a tiny town in Canada’s frozen Northwest Territories. Tana Larsson is 24 years old, five months pregnant, and still a rookie. Despite her precarious status, Tana nevertheless ends up policing the far northern Twin Rivers on her own. The already-difficult job becomes harder and scarier when two students are found dead in the wilderness, their bodies ravaged by predators. Tana sees connections to previous deaths in spite of locals warning her to step off, and with the help of pilot Crash O’Halloran, she works to put the pieces together. The frigid setting is richly drawn, and White pulls no punches in depicting the bleak environment and the related struggles of the local First Nations population. The story is light on romance and heavy on suspense, sometimes detouring into horror, but Tana is thoughtfully developed and engaging, and readers will root for her and her happiness from start to finish. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dirty for Me

Jackie Ashenden. Kensington, , $9.95 ISBN 978-1-4967-0390-3

Ashenden, a veteran author of the steamy and sensual contemporary, launches a Detroit-based series that plays to her strengths and her readers’ taste. Tamara Lennox is wealthy, ambitious, and determined to atone for the mistakes of her past. She just wants to finish her punishing internship at her family’s investment firm and earn a permanent position there. Then she meets a sultry heartthrob whose past demons could reappear and sweep them both away. Zee West swore off getting involved with any woman—especially women from the other side of the tracks—but when Tamara walks into his gym, sparks fly. Tension and heat pervade the frequent sex scenes, which range from frantic to tender. There’s just enough plot to be satisfying, and the damaged protagonists are easy to cheer for. Zee and Tamara are refreshingly mature as they navigate the transition of their relationship from a temporary affair to a full-blown romance. Readers will eagerly anticipate future installments in the series. Agent: Helen Breitweiser, Cornerstone Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Drakenfeld

Mark Charan Newton. Pan MacMillan, $14.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-4472-1929-3

In this lackluster start to a historical fantasy-mystery series, Newton (The Broken Isles) creates a tough, gritty, Roman-era world crammed with political intrigue and powerful rulers. The Vispasian Royal Union comprises eight nations on the continent, and the men and women of the Sun Chamber enforce its laws and keep the entire continent safe. Lucan Drakenfeld returns to the nation of Detrata and its capital, Tryum, for his father’s funeral and is unexpectedly thrust into a murder investigation when the king’s sister, Lacana, is found dead in a locked temple room. Drakenfeld is soon pitted against an adversary who holds all the cards, while Drakenfeld has only his wits and training in his favor. Newton’s no-nonsense, Jack Webb–esque hero plods his way through thin plotting and labored, bloody fight scenes that are meant to give the feel of high-fantasy scheming and subterfuge, but this story mostly exists to set up further adventures. Agent: John Jarrold, John Jarrold Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Transference Engine

Julia Verne St. John. DAW, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-0-7564-0953-1

Verne St. John’s serviceable debut is a steampunk romp set in early 19th-century London. Madame Magdala has been hounded by Lord Byron, a necromancer whose otherworldly, soul-transplanting Transference Engine she destroyed a year earlier. With Byron’s only legitimate child, Ada Lovelace, by her side, Magdala must right the wrongs of the past and prevent a royal assassination. Verne St. John paints an intriguing portrait of London past and introduces a colorful cast of characters. The steampunk genre is difficult to refresh, but Verne St. John does a credible job with a new take on necromancy. However, the prose sometimes sounds too modern, which clashes with the setting. The characters are interesting, but their personal choices and moral ambiguity can make them difficult to root for. Verne St. John does not tread much new ground, but this is an enjoyable read nevertheless. Agent: Mike Kabongo, OnyxHawke Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Dinosaur Knights

Victor Milán. Tor, $26.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3297-4

Milán begins right where he left off at the end of The Dinosaur Lords, with everything in the Europe-like land of the Empire of Nuevaropa in disarray, and then turns the action up another notch, mixing medieval troops with dinosaur-mounted knights and zombie-like Crusaders. His heroes, mercenary captain Karyl Bogomirskiy and dinosaur master Rob Korrigan, once again take up their leadership of the ragtag forces defending the pacifists in the Garden of Beauty and Truth and the nearby town of Providence from Count Guillaume of Crève Couer. Imperial princess Melodía and her servant and friend, Pilar, complete their escape from the treacherous Duke Falk von Hornberg and arrive in Providence, hoping for sanctuary. In the west, rumors of Grey Angels, mysterious servants of the Creators, inspire the Duke and Emperor Felipe to combine their army with that of Melodía’s lover, Count Jaume dels Flors. They hope that by scouring the realm of the supposedly sinful residents of Providence and the Garden, they can stave off a Grey Angel Crusade, in which the Grey Angels would turn humans into mindless killers. Milán continues writing terrific battle scenes that make full use of the knights’ saurian mounts. Those waiting for George R.R. Martin’s next book may find a new favorite in this explosive saga of brutal warfare and mythology come to life. Agent: Kay McCauley, Pimlico Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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