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Code of Honor

Missy Johnson. Loveswept, $2.99 e-book (209p) ISBN 978-1-101-88647-2

This dramatic tale of Chicago mafiosi in love ends on a frustrating cliffhanger. Pietro Gustovi’s parents were executed by the Mafia when he was just 15. He is consumed with finding out why his parents were killed, but no one will give him a straight answer. Giovanni Spontagio, a family friend who took him in, knows something, but claims Pietro is not ready for the information. Pietro’s distant cousin Benito knows, but won’t say a word. Giovanni’s only child, Lucia, stays out of her father’s business, but she chafes at his restrictions. At 21, she is ready for independence; she moves into an apartment in New York so she can perform in a premier ballet company, and she takes Pietro as her lover. Stubborn and feisty, Lucia doesn’t shy from making hard choices. Every step is a hard-earned victory and her relationship with Pietro is more than just passion. Given Pietro’s dedication to earning a master’s degree in economics, not to mention how his parents died, his willingness to enter the shady world of crime and murky mob politics is incomprehensible. There is joy, but with the Mafia looming in the background, it’s hard to see how there can be a happy ending. Agent: Marisa A. Corvisiero, Corvisiero Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Tough Love

Lori Foster. HQN, $7.99 mass market (544p) ISBN 978-0-373-78848-4

Foster brings her signature blend of heat and sweet to her addictive third Ultimate martial arts contemporary (after Holding Strong). After Vanity Baker’s family is killed in a plane crash, she’s left alone in the world, but she’s determined to find the right companion with whom to build a new life. She’s got her sights set on hunky mixed martial arts fighter Stack Hannigan, but to reel him in she’s going to have to play hard to get. Stack’s not exactly known for commitment—except to his chaotic family—but with Vanity, he sees the promise of forever. However, word on the street is that someone wants him dead, and it doesn’t matter who gets in the way. If he shows his love for Vanity, he could put her in danger. Foster ably tosses out red herrings and also seamlessly lays the foundation for the next book in this series. This luscious tale will appeal to Foster’s legion of fans and attract new ones—even those who aren’t fans of professional fighting. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Half a War

Joe Abercrombie. Del Rey, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8041-7845-7

War reaches the boiling point in the impressive conclusion to Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea epic fantasy trilogy (after Half the World). Princess Skara of Throvenland escapes master swordsman Bright Yilling, who is sent to raze her grandfather’s kingdom. She convinces King Uthil of Gettland and King Grom-gil-Gorm of Vansterland, who have made an alliance after the events of Half the World, to stop the army of the High King, who governs the land’s restless lords. Raith, a scarred soldier who still has a little mercy left in him, is assigned as Skara’s bodyguard, while returning character Koll, who is now apprenticed to Half a King protagonist Father Yarvi, must decide whether he wants to become an influential minister—and be sworn to celibacy—or stay with the woman he loves. Yarvi himself chooses to break the Ministry’s laws to get elf weapons; they may bring victory, but their magic will shift the entire world that readers have come to know. Abercrombie piles on shocking betrayals and charges his characters a high price for vengeance in this powerful and fitting final volume. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lamp Black, Wolf Grey

Paula Brackston. St. Martin’s Griffin, $14.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-06968-9

Brackston (The Midnight Witch) shifts across time to tell the stories of two women separated by centuries but linked to the same man. When Londoners Laura and Dan Matthews relocate to a quaint mountain village in Wales, they hope to restore intimacy to their failing marriage. Instead, Laura’s attention is drawn to the local legends surrounding onetime resident Merlin—and to the man she keeps seeing walking through the woods, for whom she feels an overwhelming connection. Eight hundred years earlier, Megan, nursemaid to the village’s malevolent lord, meets Merlin himself in those same woods and the two fall passionately in love. But when the wizard refuses to be complicit in the lord’s warmongering plans, he places Megan in mortal danger, and the reverberations of that decision reach through the ages to touch Laura’s life. Braxton’s characters possess intriguing and ambiguous true natures, and her lush prose imbues the Welsh landscape with an enchantment all its own. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Soldiers out of Time

Steve White. Baen, $15 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8072-6

In the creative but flawed fifth installment of White’s time travel adventure series (after 2014’s Ghosts of Time), Temporal Regulation Authority commander Jason Thanou must once again work against the centuries-spanning plans of the despotic Transhumanist underground. The TRA finally has the Transhumanists on the run, having cracked the secret of their technology, but the war isn’t quite over. As Thanou and his team track their enemies across space and time, they discover an insidious, audacious scheme that must be stopped at all costs. This time, the trail takes them from a 24th-century alien planet to the northwest frontier of the British Indian Empire in the 1890s, and then back into space for one last showdown that tests Thanou’s resolve and cunning. White seamlessly inserts his characters into history, blending science fiction and vintage military action to deliver a fast-paced, high-stakes story. The time travel leads to a twisty, clever series of surprises and plot mechanics. However, the Transhumanists’ use of rape and torture comes off as perfunctory and is mostly dismissed by the victims; it’s an uncomfortable and unnecessary element in an otherwise satisfying tale. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Fifth House of the Heart

Ben Tripp. S&S/Gallery, $16 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8263-8

Tripp (The Accidental Highwayman) melds the modern vampire myth with comic mystery and detective fiction in this intriguing and intelligent horror novel. Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang, an aging and immensely wealthy procurer of antiques, has a secret: his astonishing success has come from looting the hoards of vampires, ancient shapeshifting predators who kill with cunning and ruthlessness. When Sax learns of a dangerous unknown vampire attempting to rebuild her own trove, he realizes he’s been marked for death and sets off on a globe-trotting hunt to kill the beast and reclaim her treasure. Tripp’s crotchety, cowardly protagonist, reminiscent of Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy, is instantly appealing and provides a fascinating viewpoint for the novel’s diverse cast of vampire hunters. The story is exhaustively researched and the prose is rife with dry wit, all the funnier for scholars of history but easily accessible to others. Though sometimes a touch slow in between action scenes, this deep and terrifying vampire story is as nuanced as it is thrilling. Agent: Kirby Kim, Janklow & Nesbit. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Banished of Muirwood

Jeff Wheeler. Amazon/47North, $15.95 ISBN 978-1-5039-4532-6

In an introductory note, Wheeler (the Legends of Muirwood trilogy) attributes the origin of this new Muirwood novel to a dream he had about an evil father, his daughter, and her skilled bodyguard, complicated by a wicked twist. His adolescent heroine is a banished and suffering Cinderella and, unknowingly, the villain of the tale, spreading chaos everywhere as she tries to save her realm. Maia, princess of Comoros, was trained secretly in magic. Wheeler alternates episodes of her struggles to reach the kingdom of Naess—where she hopes to become a maston, a priestly vocation forbidden to women, and find the history of the evil Myriad Ones—with nightmare flashbacks to crucial episodes in her past. These dizzying narrative shifts mirror Maia’s struggle with the evil spirit that tries to dominate and destroy her. Wheeler successfully brings his central characters to vivid life, especially Maia’s volatile father, whose sins recall Henry VIII’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon; Maia’s protectors, woodsman Jon Tayt and boarhound Argus; and Feint Collier, the dangerously handsome king of Dahomey. Readers will enjoy the rich descriptions of a created world that Wheeler clearly knows intimately, though series newcomers might have profited from a cast list and a recap of previous installments. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Pilots of Borealis

David Nabhan. Skyhorse/Talos, $14.99 trade paper (236p) ISBN 978-1-940456-23-2

Nabhan’s debut novel stars a pulpy paragon of a hero drawn in the primary colors of golden-age military SF. Earth has been weakened by wars over dwindling petroleum, and now its influence over the solar system runs a distant third to the human settlements at the Borealis lunar base and the orbiting Terran Ring. Borealis controls production of the helium-3 that’s vital to manufacturing and energy production everywhere, and another resource war seems inevitable. Ruthless Earth-born Clinton Rittener, who puts on mechanical wings to compete in low-gravity races, works as a mercenary spaceship captain. After quelling inevitable rebellion in the asteroid belt, Rittener decides it’s time to force the solar system’s governments to come to some agreement about their mutual futures and the ownership of energy resources. Unfortunately, Rittener and his “swashbuckling hubris” fail to convince or entertain the reader. With a haphazardly sketched setting, a muddled plot, and a slate of one-dimensional characters, this story evokes a science fiction past it cannot live up to. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lightless

C.A. Higgins. Del Rey, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-553-39442-9

Debut author Higgins blends political philosophy into space opera adventure with moderate success in a series launch that rewards a patient reader. The experimental spaceship Ananke moves slowly across a solar system ruled by a ruthless Earth-based government too literally named the System. After two thieves with revolutionary leanings come on board, the ship—and its caretaker, Althea—will change forever. Higgins struggles a bit with the pacing after setting up the main characters, spending too long matching wits between thief Ivan, a jaded, unbreakable man who questions the System, and ambitious interrogator Ida, a flat example of government evil, while Althea tries to fix a ship that is transforming in response to the behavior of Ivan’s partner, Mattie. However, the pace improves as the characters find common ground, and Higgins brings deep questions to the fore along with serious consequences for the characters’ actions. There’s plenty more to explore in this world for readers who can forgive a few newbie stumbles. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Speak Easy

Catherynne M. Valente. Subterranean
(subterraneanpress.com), $40 (144p) ISBN 978-1-59606-727-1

The Artemisia Hotel is a very hot spot in New York City sometime in an alternate version of the Jazz Age. Its rooms are inhabited by writers, artists, and everybody who’s anybody, and its basement is run by Al, who is both a king of Faerie and the lord of the dead. Valente (Six-Gun Snow White) follows Zelda Fair, who lives in the Artemisia and wants to become great at something; she isn’t sure what yet. The busboy, Frankie Key, loves Zelda and follows her into Al’s basement when she disappears. But Valente’s novella-length take on fairy tales is more complicated than the plot of any single traditional story, and Frankie and Zelda may not be destined to be a fairy-tale romance. Valente’s language is extravagantly rich, and her world is filled with fascinating details. The amount of story packed into this slender volume would easily fill a novel; unfortunately, it is somewhat cramped in its smaller setting. Agent: Howard Morhaim, Howard Morhaim Literary Agency Inc. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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