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Not Quite Forever

Catherine Bybee. Amazon/Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4778-2589-1

Bybee’s magnetic fourth Not Quite contemporary (after Not Quite Enough) proves that romance can happen in the most unlikely places. When a Florida hotel hosts two conventions, one for romance authors and one for medical professionals, writer Dakota Laurens and doctor Walt Eddy are unexpectedly drawn together. They start dating upon their return to California, but their attraction doesn’t really ignite until she flies to Colorado with him for his father’s birthday celebration. Dakota is a strong, independent woman who has distanced herself from her family since they voiced their disapproval of her profession. Walt is a very determined physician whose ability to sustain a relationship is hampered by his fear of commitment. As Walt and Dakota work through the inevitable roadblocks in their romance, they wonder whether a future together is worth the possibility of heartbreak. The love scenes are sizzling and the multi-dimensional characters make this a page-turner. Readers will look for earlier installments and eagerly anticipate new ones. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Starstruck

L.A. Witt. Riptide, $16.99 trade paper (291p) ISBN 978-1-62649-171-7

Witt (General Misconduct) delivers an absorbing contemporary romance about two actors who struggle with combining work and love. Action star Levi Pritchard left Hollywood for remote Washington State to live quietly alone and direct smalltown theater. His plans are derailed when an old friend, now the director of the hot TV series Wolf’s Landing, offers Levi the role he’s waited his entire career for—one that would allow the world to see him as more than a one-dimensional macho man. Carter Samuels is the star of Wolf’s Landing, and he’s had a crush on Levi for years. As filming continues, the two men grow closer and closer. But while Carter is openly gay, Levi is not, and Carter refuses to be any man’s dirty little secret. When the studio gives Levi an ultimatum—stay closeted or lose his dream role—he must choose between his career and his lover. Witt’s powerful story will have readers riveted. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Travelers

Keith Wayne McCoy. Champagne/Burst, $2.99 e-book (142p) ISBN 978-1-77155-061-1

Tragedy wrestles hope in this philosophically rich hybrid of genres. Time travel and alien visitation tropes are refreshed by empathetic characters fighting internal ghosts as well as confronting otherworldly visitors. Severely depressed filmmaker Guy encounters echoes of the mystical as he talks with recently separated spouses Jim and Jessica Bennett aboard the retired ship Queen Mary. Morse code sent from WWII—and a naked alien’s plea—sends Guy on an epic journey of grief, as Jessica and Jim confess to raising two extraterrestrial children whose deaths destroyed their marriage. Who will deliver the news to their other-dimensional mother? Love, both strong and faltering, resonates through this complex speculative tragedy of loss and redemption, which is strengthened by complex plotting and rich dialogue, though the rushed conclusion dilutes the emotional payoff. This mystical paean to parental love is sure to appeal to fans of both romance and science fiction. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Wishes and Sorrows

Cindy Lynn Speer. Dragonwell (Ingram, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-940076-04-1

The sorrows outnumber the wishes in this frustrating collection of 13 intriguing but unevenly executed ideas. “The Fortunate Ones” imagines a lineage of magically lucky women enslaved to their husbands, but falters in extending the story beyond its cruel conceit. “What Will I Do When the Dream Is Over?” similarly abbreviates the prospects of a unicorn rider in contemporary middle America who has fulfilled her fantastic destiny. Slender characterizations and jarringly modern language (“And I can’t believe he thought Corpsy was me... I mean, that’s a male body!”) mar secondary-world efforts like the supernatural revenge tragedy “The Jester’s Heart” or the Arabesque “The Tower in the Desert.” Speer (Unbalanced) has room to range through subgenres, but her strengths show most clearly in the retellings: the bleak false gifts of “Every Word I Speak,” the richly ambiguous ending of “A Necklace of Rubies,” and the nested Cinderella variants of “But Can You Let Him Go?”, positing their cross-cultural ubiquity as the result of a fairy godmother’s quest for redemption. The apologetic introduction would make a better afterword. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Boy Who Killed Demons

Dave Zeltserman. Overlook, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4683-0960-7

Henry Dudlow is a boy with a terrible affliction. Either the world is about to be invaded by demons, or Henry has completely lost his mind. His efforts to find answers unfold in his diary, which holds the confidences of a young man isolated from his family and peers by an ability he can neither control nor deny. Henry’s conviction that the rising demon threat is real leads him to ever more dangerous behaviors, even as he connects with people who are sympathetic to his plight. Henry is denied the proof he needs to feel completely confident in his actions, and yet must continue to take action due to the terrible consequences his inaction could bring, so he bravely become something bad, in order to prevent something far worse. The sympathy that Zeltserman (Monster) invokes on behalf of Henry is heartbreaking, and readers will fully believe in both the madness and the greatness of his tragic young hero. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Town & Train

James K. Moran. Lethe (www.lethepress-
books.com), $20 (340p) ISBN 978-1-59021-508-1

A ghostly train that spirits away residents of a small Canadian town cuts a swath of supernatural menace through this unevenly plotted debut. John Daniel, a teenager in the languishing mill town of Brandon, has an alarming close encounter with the train, which lures people away with the promise of escape from their dead-end lives. When some townsfolk return as animated corpses, John joins forces with police officer David Forester and elderly resident Henry Tanner, whose own past history with the train holds the key to thwarting it. Moran does an excellent job of conveying the desperation that drives people to seek salvation in the supernatural, but his treatment of the train is confusing, especially when a late-breaking discovery undermines much of the premise. The novel’s pyrotechnic finale plays out in conventional horror-novel fashion, but leaves many plot pints unresolved. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Factory Town

John Bassoff. DarkFuse, $16.99 trade paper (212p) ISBN 978-1-940544-37-3

In the middle of the night, a desperate man breaks into a house, confronts the woman who lives there, and shoots himself in the head. The backstory to these strange events unfolds as in a terrible dream. Vicious criminal Russell Carver, searching for a lost girl, progresses through the sordid darkness of Factory Town, a post-apocalyptic “town of sin, town of sadness, town of hatred.” He wades through a hallucinatory world of threatening men, victimized women, and vulnerable children, while constantly haunted by the deeds of his abusive father and his own past behavior, the full horror of which is slowly disclosed over the course of his nightmarish journey. Carver’s story is filled with stomach-turning descriptions of violence and grotesque characters, and shot through with despair. This is a profoundly discomfiting and pessimistic exploration of a deeply damaged man, and when Bassoff (Corrosion) invokes real-world horrors alongside the fantastical ugliness of Factory Town and its inhabitants, he suggests that similar foulness is common to all people. This is one to read with all the lights on. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mythic Delirium

Edited by Mike and Anita Allen. Mythic Delirium, $14.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-0-9889124-3-4

Rich word choices and settings that blend speculative concepts with quotidian reality highlight this stellar anthology of prose and poetry from well-known editor Mike Allen (Clockwork Phoenix) and his wife and copublisher, Anita Allen. Imaginative ideas abound, include creating an alternative history for Troy’s ill-fated Paris in Marie Brennan’s “The Wives of Paris,” septuagenarians who think they’re Annie Oakley in Patty Templeton’s “The Two Annies of Windale Road,” and a stunning creation myth in Yukimi Ogawa’s “The Giant’s Tree.” Two of the best narrative poems are “Voyage to a Distant Star,” where C.S.E. Cooney tells the plight of an unwilling generation ship, and Lisa M. Bradley’s “Backbone of the Home,” a haunting tale of a witch who preys upon new home owners. “Maggie’s body is a ruined country where everything lovely has been bombed out,” from Georgina Bruce’s “The Art of Flying,” is just one of many lines worth lingering over. This anthology is a winner from cover to cover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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On Her Majesty’s Behalf: The Great Undead War, Book 2

Joseph Nassise. Harper Voyager, $14.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-204878-3

This fast-paced sequel to By the Blood of Heroes (2012) is another competent horror thriller set in a fantastical version of WWI. After a kickoff set piece, hero “Madman” Burke and his squad are assigned a risky rescue mission in devastated, zombie-infested London. As they evade hordes of the new fast “shredders,” the creative, nonstop action moves swiftly from crisis to crisis, intensity building steadily, interrupted only by brief discourses on weaponry or fantastical technology. Characters from the previous installment, including villain Manfred Von Richthofen, make brief but important appearances, rewarding continuing readers of the series. Unfortunately, the imaginative core idea of German gas that creates zombies is rendered formulaic by stereotypical pulp characters and a ludicrously unlikely romantic attraction stuffed into the latter half of the book. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Nobody’s Child

Libby Fischer Hellmann. Red Herrings (www.libbyhellmann.com), $16.99 trade paper (362p) ISBN 978-1-938733-46-8

Former cop–turned-PI Georgia Davis takes on what could be her most personal case yet in Hellmann’s thrilling fourth installment in her Chicago-based series (after 2011’s Toxicity). Georgia always thought she was an only child, until she receives a bloodstained note revealing that she has a half-sister, Savannah, who’s not only in trouble but is pregnant. With little to go on, Georgia soon discovers that Savannah, who’s almost 16 and goes by the name Vanna, is caught up in Chicago’s underground human trafficking ring, which provides whoever’s willing to pay with everything from organs to babies, not to mention girls for sex. Few people are willing to talk to Georgia about the details of the operation, but the wily PI soon learns that a former foe could be an asset in bringing her sister home safely. Hellmann ratchets up the tension with each chapter, and the reader is constantly kept wondering about the fate of both sisters. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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