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Hearts Made Whole

Jody Hedlund. Bethany House, $14.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7642-1238-3

Caroline Taylor has helped her father tend the lighthouse at Windmill Point on Lake St. Clair for years, but when her father drowns in a storm, she and her younger siblings—Tessa, just turned 18; Sarah, who is 13 and critically ill; and 10-year-old twin brothers—must leave the lighthouse and the job she loves. When a man arrives to take her position, she knows right off he is in no shape to care for the light. Ryan Chambers is fresh from the Civil War’s Iron Brigade, wounded in body and spirit and hoping the lighthouse job will help him heal. Caroline and Ryan’s first meeting doesn’t bode well, but as they begin to know each other, each finds a kindred heart in the other. But throw in Ryan’s addictions, an unlikely suitor for Caroline, dangerous happenings around the lighthouse, a bully’s threats, and an intimate betrayal, and the road to wholeness is nearly ruined. Readers will find a tangle of plot lines that may cause whiplash, but Hedlund has gathered fans since her career began with The Preacher’s Bride, and this third in the Beacons of Hope series will surely add to her base. Agent: Rachelle Gardner, Books & Such Literary Management. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Protecting Caroline

Susan Stoker. Susan Stoker, $3.99 e-book (232p) ISBN 978-0-9907388-0-0

Stoker’s bland, short novel consists of story sequences that never cohere into a satisfactory work. Matthew “Wolf” Steel and his team of five other Navy SEALs are traveling on a commercial airline on a break from their missions. Wolf’s seatmate, chemist Caroline, detects drugs in the beverages served to the passengers; she warns Wolf, who manages to foil a plot to hijack the plane, but her actions draw the attention of the terrorists’ allies on the ground. When they come after her, Wolf and his team ride to her rescue, despite their only perfunctory (but intense) previous interactions. Stoker’s writing is at its best when she describes the characters’ emotions for one another, but those nuggets are not enough to redeem the overall low quality of the prose, pacing, and structure. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Starblind

D.T. Dyllin. Tik Tok, $2.99 e-book (298p) ISBN 978-1-941126-37-0

Dyllin (E-Day) hits all the right notes in this light SF romance, building a universe full of politics and battle while fanning the flames of passion. Captain Jane, a genetic hybrid who can withstand fire, embraces her human side, using her bounty-hunting prizes to support a collection of period clothing and historic foods that remind her of destroyed Earth. Her all-female, all-alien crewmates on the Pittsburgh think she takes too many chances by going after Class 4 targets—those with unpredictable abilities—but the United Galactic Federation of Stars (UGFS) pays too well for her to pass them up. Her latest bounty, Ash, is like nothing she’s ever chased before, and his heat calls to an unknown part of her DNA like no other creature in the universe can. Ash understands what Jane is, but refuses to let her catch him until she understands why the UGFS is out to silence both of them, along with entire species who threaten its control. Fans of both paranormal romance and space opera will find this a refreshing mix of the two. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Spring Bride

Anne Gracie. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-0-425-25927-6

Gracie (The Winter Bride) provides an enchanting spin on Regency tropes with the romance of pragmatic Jane Chance and dashing, disguised gentleman Zachary Black. Jane and her sister, Abby, grew up in poverty; Jane’s marriage goal is stability, not love. Zach, who has spent 12 years conducting continental espionage in the guise of a rover and pirate, discovers he has been declared dead by his greedy cousin—and he’s suspected of murdering his father’s second wife, Cecily, whom he escorted to Wales just days before an unidentifiable woman’s body was discovered on his father’s estate. A random encounter with a stray dog and a pack of ruffians thrusts Jane and Zach together, challenging her desire to avoid romance and Zach’s intention of leaving England again as soon as he clears his name. Complicating matters further, Jane accepts a marriage proposal from the unremarkable and stodgy but wealthy Lord Cambury, while Zach employs investigators to search for Cecily. Gracie layers in multiple stories of hidden identities and warns against judging by appearance, enhancing the sweet seasonal love story. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Suddenly One Summer

Julie James. Jove, $7.99 mass market (304) ISBN 978-0-425-27376-0

Sparks fly when divorce lawyer Victoria Slade moves in next door to Chicago Tribune reporter Ford Dixon—but they are not the falling-in-love kind of neighbors. She thinks he’s an arrogant jerk with a parade of women; he finds her judgmental and abrasive. This has the makings of a long and uncomfortable summer, until Victoria is roped into helping Ford’s sister. Their childhoods—Ford with an alcoholic dad and Victoria taking care of a mother with depression—taught them to sidestep relationships and entanglements. The boundaries they place around their tentative friendship and eventual affair are distressing but realistic, and it’s gratifying to see the barriers eventually fall. Victoria’s struggles to face her fears and acknowledge her shields are raw and heart-wrenching, but each healing step toward a future with Ford feels like a victory. Ford is a genuinely nice guy, and it’s easy to root for him to win the woman of his dreams. Their happy-ever-after is not a sweet and foregone conclusion, but a hard-won battle involving risks and blind faith. Agent: Robin Rue, Writers House. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Asking for It

Lilah Pace. Berkley, $15 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-42527-951-9

The anonymous author’s first novel under the Pace pseudonym is an unconventional tale of tangled erotic obsession infused with dark emotions. Vivienne Charles, a 25-year-old doctoral student, is humiliated at a party when her ex-lover blurts out her fixation with rape fantasies. She’s equally stunned, turned on, and scared when sexy, brooding science professor Jonah Marks discreetly says he can give her what she wants. With a safe word in place, Viv finds the reality of her daydreams to be even more incredible than she imagined. Jonah’s caring actions after their raw sexual situations seems at odds with his willingness to mimic violence, and she wonders who he really is. Then what starts as an innocent conversation ends up pushing them both to their limits. Through Viv’s therapy sessions, Pace explores the aftermath of sexual assault, making this more than just an erotic romp. The unflinching honesty of the voice and perspective of the story pulls the reader in right from the start, and the tension builds to a breathtaking climax and cliffhanger ending. Readers willing to read explicit fantasies of nonconsensual sex will be enthralled. Agent: Diana Fox, Fox Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Sex Becomes Her

Regina Cole. Kensington, $9.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-61773-780-0

Cole (Draw Me In) sizzles in this sexy contemporary tale, which manages to be both sweet and red hot. After a vindictive ex-boyfriend broadcasts intimate details of Eliza Jackson’s sexual fantasies, she can’t even grocery shop without malicious comments from other residents of her tiny Ohio town. Fortunately her best friend is getting married in Hawaii, and Eliza can’t get on the plane fast enough. A collision with a handsome stranger, Chandler Morse, leaves her sexy underwear scattered across the airport floor. Of course they’re seated together on the plane; of course he’s a cousin of the groom. The intense chemistry between Chandler and Eliza heats up immediately, and even though both originally figure their relationship is destined to be a vacation fling, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s more to say. But will Chandler still want her after he hears the nasty gossip? Cole ably portrays a situation that could happen to anyone brave enough to share their sexual fantasies with a partner. While Chandler is almost too good to be true, readers will cheer for this couple and how they make their way to their happy ending. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymor Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Twice in a Lifetime

Dorothy Garlock. Grand Central, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4555-2728-1

Garlock’s terrific story, set in mid-20th-century Missouri, pairs a lonely single mother with a flashy auto racer. Clara Sinclair’s husband died in WWII, and she has no time for dating. Between trying to do right by her rebellious 16-year-old son, caring for her aging mom, keeping her smarmy boss at arm’s length, and nursing an aging pickup truck so it will get her to and from work, she’s got her hands full. Then Drake McCoy zooms into her small town and offers to fix up that rundown truck, with the help of his pit crewman, Amos. As Drake tinkers with the vehicle, his affection for Clara grows, and soon he’s thinking it might be time to quit his wandering ways. Garlock keeps readers so wrapped up in Drake and Clara’s romance that it’s impossible to put the book down. There’s just enough tension, from a few different fronts, to keep things interesting. Thoroughly credible characters and the aw-shucks charm of their small town make this a winner. (July)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Artificial Absolutes

Mary Fan. Red Adept, $5.99 e-book (376p) ISBN 978-1-940215-03-7

In this thrilling science fiction–adventure series launch, Fan (Tell Me My Name) introduces a society where interstellar travel is an everyday reality, computers infiltrate every aspect of human life, and the forbidden technology of artificial intelligence may be closer than most people suspect. When Jane Colt accidentally witnesses the kidnapping of her best friend, Adam, she calls on her big brother, Devin, hoping he’ll believe her even when all the records say that there’s no way she saw what she claims. Soon the two of them are on the run, targeted by what seems to be a vast and powerful conspiracy that is determined to see them silenced. From the outer colonies known as the Fringe to the depths of the Internet, these siblings face danger at every turn, recruit allies among the underworld, and strive to save themselves, Adam, and civilization. Jane and Devin go to desperate lengths to help each other, and the fast-paced action is balanced by thoughtful meditations on what it means to be human. Readers will zip through this exciting story and immediately hunt down the sequels. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Slow Bullets

Alastair Reynolds. Tachyon (Legato, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-61696-193-0

An interstellar war has just come to an end, but some violence-loving soldiers are reluctant to stand down. Scur, separated from her unit, is captured and tortured by the sadistic Orvin. After passing out, she awakens from suspended animation to find herself on an enormous starship floating dead in space about 1,000 years in the future. Other than the hapless crew, who have also just revived, the ship is now inhabited by hundreds of former soldiers, war criminals (including Orvin), and civilians, none of whom know why they’re there or where in space they are. Scur quickly takes charge, hoping to preserve order, to figure out why they’re on board in the first place, and to enact vengeance on the malignant Orvin. This is an odd tale, stylized and almost gothic in its sensibilities, reminiscent of Greg Bear’s Hull Zero Three in its willingness to mystify its audience and leave its shipboard mysteries unsolved. Scur is not a particularly appealing protagonist, but her growth from embittered grunt to legitimate leader is worth following. Reynolds (Poseidon’s Wake) has a loyal base of hard-SF fans, and this novella, though relatively minor, should satisfy them. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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