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Busted

Shiloh Walker. Berkley Sensation, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-425-27393-7

This third installment in Walker’s Barnes Brothers series (after Razed) is a second chance at love for Trey Barnes, an author and single father who’s still mourning the death of his wife after almost six years. When he meets sultry librarian Ressa Bliss, he’s startled by the stirrings of long-buried emotions. Ressa, not realizing that Trey is a world-famous writer, quickly falls for the mysterious, tormented man and his adorable son. Though they try to resist the mutual attraction, all bets are off when Ressa and Trey run into each other at a conference, and soon they’re building a fragile new relationship. But they both have secrets—Trey’s double life, Ressa’s dark past—that threaten to ruin the happiness they’ve found. Walker delivers a solidly satisfying romance, with tangible chemistry between the leads, a healthy dose of steamy sex, and a sweetly sentimental theme of family running throughout. Minor subplots left over from the first two books allow for a current of continuity, while still letting this one stand on its own. The interracial aspect of their romance (he’s white, she’s black) is treated with welcome casualness, leaving the focus squarely on the characters’ undeniable love. Agent: Irene Goodman, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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This Thing Called Love

Miranda Liasson. Amazon/Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (233p) ISBN 978-1-4778-2906-6

Liasson won a Golden Heart Award in 2013 for this contrived smalltown contemporary, which opens the Mirror Lake series. Brad Rushford raised his four siblings after their parents died when he was 15. He and Olivia Marks were childhood sweethearts, but he ended the relationship during her freshman year at NYU. Meanwhile, his brother Kevin married Olivia’s sister Trish. When Kevin and Trish are killed in a car accident, Olivia, now a successful editor, returns to her Connecticut home town to take custody of her niece, in a role reminiscent of Diane Keaton in Baby Boom. Brad, a wealthy businessman, plans to undermine Olivia’s already low confidence as a parent, seeing this as a completely reasonable way to keep the child with the Rushford clan rather than lose her to a workaholic in Manhattan. Brad and Olivia’s old connection resurfaces, but the big-city/smalltown conundrum remains, exacerbated by Brad’s confusing lifestyle as a womanizer who reads child-rearing books when he babysits. This is an assembly of clichés masquerading as a novel. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Taming the Legend

Kat Latham. Carina, $3.99 e-book (144p) ISBN 978-1-4268-9983-6

Latham’s fourth London Legends sports romance (after Tempting the Player) transcends the tired tropes of arrogant sports stars and the women they annoy. After 18 years of being focused on training and winning, English rugby legend Ash Trenton is one day from leaving the sport. At his retirement party, Ash is surprised to run into his first love, who’s tracked him down hoping he’ll save her California summer camp for troubled youths by coaching a rugby team to victory. But Camila Morales isn’t just seeking a coach; she wants to know why Ash never returned her letters or phone calls when she was in trouble. Together in California, Ash and Camila have to decide whether their unrelenting attraction is worth pursuing in light of the pain it brought them before. Other London Legends make brief cameos, but the focus is on love in the California sun and the antics of a bunch of unruly teenagers. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Beautiful One

Emily Greenwood. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-1365-7

Aside from some sweet moments and the occasional quip, there’s not much to salvage from this plodding Regency romance. Poised on the brink of scandal over a book of salacious drawings, Anna Bristol heads to Stillwell Hall under the name Anna Black, acting as Elizabeth Tarryton’s companion and chaperone. She has to convince Will Halifax, Viscount Grandville, to let Elizabeth, his ward, stay with him. Much is made of Anna’s independence and resourcefulness, but they manifest as a stubborn insistence that she knows what’s best for everyone else. Will is a ball of clichés: a grieving widower, a hermit afraid to care, and a son angry at his father for remarrying. Unfortunately he comes off as petulant and bitter, not complex. Anna forces Will to care about life again, but when it comes to her feelings for Will and their humdrum affair, she is passive. Will grows up and stops pouting, but Anna never changes, making this love story tedious from beginning to end. Agent: Jenny Bent, Bent Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Trusting Liam

Molly McAdams. Morrow, $14.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-235843-1

This far-fetched sequel to Taking Chances begins with one night of anonymous Las Vegas sex between Liam Taylor and the woman he calls Moon, but unfortunately it doesn’t end there. In a ridiculously improbable second encounter a year later, Liam not only reunites with Moon—whose real name is Kennedy—but is obligated to spend time with her. Kennedy and her twin sister are being threatened by thugs in their Florida hometown, so they travel to stay with their uncle in California. Lo and behold, Liam works for their uncle and is awarded the task of “babysitting” the frightened young women. As McAdams continues pushing coincidence just one or two degrees beyond the believability point, everything falls too neatly into place for Liam and Kennedy. This one is strictly for McAdams’s die-hard fans, and even they might struggle to suspend their disbelief. (June)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Devil Wears Spurs

Soraya Lane. St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-06008-2

In the entertaining first Texas Kings contemporary, Lane introduces the arrogant Ryder King, the youngest of the three fabulously wealthy King brothers, as he climbs on a rodeo bull in Dallas. Chloe, a spunky, witty law student turned barmaid, is mesmerized by him from the stands, but another rider’s major spill inexplicably terrifies her, so she turns down Ryder’s advances. The next night, at a high-stakes poker game, he loses his share of the massive King ranch to a family enemy. Chloe whisks away the drunk and forlorn Ryder to comfort him—and to make him a deal. She learned poker from her gambler father, and she offers to win back the ranch for Ryder in exchange for a place to stay and tuition money so she can finish law school. Although neither wants a serious relationship, they enjoy hot sex while Chloe brushes up on her poker skills, and soon it leads to romance. Both protagonists are well drawn, but the ending stretches too long and becomes melodramatic. Agent: Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Diorama

Sebastian Bendix. Sebastian Bendix, $0.99 e-book (34p) ASIN B00P20B2O6

This slow-burning novella ramps up to a deadly but predictable conclusion. Martin Taper is a loser working at a pet store, living out his fantasies via an intricately created diorama and models. There’s very little to indicate the story is fantastical at first, as Bendix (The Patchwork Girl) takes time to establish Martin’s bad relationship with his boss, whom he pictures as a bad guy in his fantasy plays. But with the addition of Dennis, a neighbor’s child, Martin’s fantasies turn real, as if the diorama can control what happens in Martin’s life. There’s a great transition for Martin at this point, but it’s undercut by the diorama’s sudden change from a tool for Martin’s cathartic release to a predictive or manipulative magical tool. A story that begins with strong psychological elements ends up more in the realm of a Twilight Zone–style twist ending, turning Martin’s inner journey into an enjoyable but familiar tale of manipulation. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Pass on the Cup of Dreams

Bruce Fergusson. Lucky Bat, $17.99 trade paper (418p) ISBN 978-1-939051-49-3

The third installment of Fergusson’s Six Kingdoms fantasy series (after The Mace of Souls) suffers from a lack of clear visual descriptions, leaving readers adrift in an unearthly place. Devious antihero Falca Breks and his companions try to fulfill a promise made in their previous quest, but they face hardships aplenty as they dodge vicious magical beasts, vengeful soldiers, and a highly trained assassin. The action begins swiftly and without explanation, leaving readers to sink or swim according to their imaginations. This approach can be frustrating for those without a copy of The Six Kingdoms Codex, Fergusson’s detailed companion to the series, but it’s rewarding to those who have followed Breks’s adventures so far. Fergusson develops his characters thoughtfully and methodically, and though he falls into some tired and unfortunate revenge-based tropes along the way, his plotting remains dense and satisfying. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Expiration Date

Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick. Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy (edgewebsite.com), $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-77053-062-1

A horror anthology focusing on endings is almost by definition going to be filled with depressing stories, but these are still well worth reading. The recent death of contributor Melanie Tem adds inadvertent poignancy to “Night Market,” her collaboration with Steve Rasnic Tem, which links the compassionate euthanization of animals with a depressed veterinarian’s own near-death experiences. Numerous stories have been told from the vampire-hunter’s point of view, but Kelley Armstrong presents the vampire’s perspective on the hunters in “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.” Ryan McFadden explores crushing survivor guilt in “Death Drives a Cordoba.” A deal with the devil in J.M. Frey’s “The Twenty-Seven Club” serves as a reminder that one can rarely choose the manner of one’s death. Of course, one way to select the way you die is suicide, which Morgan Dambergs’s “Sooner” explores. When humor does enter these tales, it is often bleak and dark, as befits the subject matter. These stories work best in small doses, but they offer a variety of compelling visions of deaths and other endings. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dreams of Shreds and Tatters

Amanda Downum. Solaris, $9.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-78108-327-7

Downum (the Necromancer Chronicles) grounds this tale of friendship and love in a community of artists and magic users. When a ritual goes terribly wrong and leaves Vancouver artist Blake Enderly in a coma, his best friend, Liz Drake, and her stereotypically English boyfriend, Alex, travel to Vancouver to find out what happened to him. To save his life, Liz must navigate deadly magical peril in the waking world and undertake a quest in an equally dangerous dream world that leads her to Robert Chambers’s Carcosa and its ruler, the Yellow King. Downum’s narrative is packed to excess with artists and hangers-on, a dangerous drug with connections to the dream world, bloodthirsty maenads, and gun-toting cleanup artists specializing in supernatural mishaps. Readers eager for diverse characters will delight in the casually displayed variety of sexual and romantic orientations, including Liz’s comfortable asexuality. The vividly evoked bohemian, magical Vancouver and the haunting dream lands are largely secondary to the bonds of love, romantic and otherwise, among the novel’s likable, intensely beleaguered core characters. Agent: Jennifer Jackson, Donald Maass Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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