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Better Homes and Hauntings

Molly Harper. Pocket, $7.99 mass market (318p) ISBN 978-1-4767-0600-9

Harper (How to Run with a Naked Werewolf) puts a spectral twist on this charming but convoluted standalone paranormal. Nina Linden hopes to restore her landscaping business’s failing finances by joining a team doing a complete renovation of Crane’s Nest. The supposedly haunted house is the ancestral home of the wealthy Deacon Whitney, who hopes to overcome the curse dooming all members of his family to failure. Others spending the next three months on Whitney Island, R.I., include architect Jake Rumson and his onetime girlfriend, “organizational guru” Cindy Ellis. Romance slowly blooms between Nina and Deacon, and between Jake and Cindy, even as they deal with mysterious noises and ghostly interference linked to a century-old murder. Harper front-loads her story with a memorable ensemble cast and a spooky, almost claustrophobic setting, and she keeps the ball rolling with subtle yet effective chemistry, but the narrative occasionally feels unfocused and overly busy. Agent: Stephany Evans, FinePrint Literary Management. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Deeper than Need

Shiloh Walker. St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-03240-9

Walker’s first novel-length Secrets & Shadows installment (originally a series of digital novellas) is an uneasy blend of suspense and romance that never quite jells. Contractor and former youth pastor Noah Benningfield has spent 20 years recovering from the traumatic disappearance and presumed death of his first love, Lana. When Trinity Ewing and her young son, Micah, move to Madison, Ind. and buy a purportedly haunted house, Noah agrees to help them refurbish it. Noah and have an immediate visceral response to each other, but desire is delayed by a variety of complications, including the discovery of a corpse—which might be Lana’s—under Trinity’s rotting pantry floor. The story is hampered by overly deliberate pacing and unnecessarily contrived concealment of various elements, and not even the regular interjection of steamy romantic scenarios can overcome the lack of suspense. Agent: Irene Goodman, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Treasured

Candace Camp. Pocket, $7.99 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4108-6

Camp (Mesmerized) launches the Secrets of the Loch series with a sweet story set in 1807 Scotland. Isobel Rose and her dotty Aunt Elizabeth are enjoying a rainy evening at home when Londoner Jack Kensington arrives and claims to be the new owner of the Rose estate, Baillannan. It seems that Isobel’s irresponsible brother, Andrew, wagered Baillannan in a card game and lost. Now Jack is come to claim and sell the property: loch, stock, and crofters. Isobel’s only hope of keeping her home is to entice social climber Jack into a marriage of convenience; but he agrees for the sake of Isobel herself, not her profitable estate or the rumors of hidden treasure. Entertaining side characters lend a Highlands version of smalltown charm to this placid, straightforward romance. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Blood Red

Mercedes Lackey. DAW, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7564-0897-8

Lackey’s long-awaited ninth Elemental Masters fairy tale (after Steadfast) will satisfy her eager fans. As a budding Earth mage in 19th-century Europe, young Rosa studied deep in the Schwarzwald forest of Germany under the tutelage of her adopted grandmother, until the day the wolf literally came to her door. Some years later, having come fully into her Mastery of Earth, Rosa is called to hunt the same creatures that haunt her past and who set her on her current path—assuming her training for polite society doesn’t kill her first. The action and dialogue flow freely, mingling with beautiful descriptions of European countryside and just a hint of romance. However, despite a well-developed heroine and engaging story, the novel falls short of its full potential, feeling somewhat like a rewritten role-playing adventure. Agent: Russell Galen, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Chasers of the Wind

Alexey Pehov, trans. from the Russian by Elinor Huntington. Tor, $27.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3489-3

Pehov pits a resourceful pair of experienced assassins against a winsome princess of evil in this sprightly if formulaic adventure fantasy, which is loosely linked to the Chronicles of Siala trilogy. The fall of the supposedly indestructible Gates of Six Towers leaves the Empire open to the hostile Kingdom of Nabator. Meanwhile, visitors to the placid village of Dog Green tell retired rogues Gray and Leyna, who have been in hiding for seven years, that Joch Threefingers knows they’re alive and has put out a bounty on them. Leyna’s special gift is of interest to the evil Tia, and apolitical Gray’s marriage to Leyna now links him to the fortunes of the Empire. A parallel strain of derring-do introduces heroic Ga-Nor and less intrepid Luk, who eventually wind up guarding Leyna in a battle against the dead. Pehov imports master thief Harold from the Siala series, but Harold’s philosophical asides don’t detract from the pleasure of an exciting story. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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On the Steel Breeze

Alastair Reynolds. Ace, $26.95 (496p) ISBN 978-0-425-25678-7

Reynolds’s depth of imagination, adeptness with creating multi-dimensional characters, and brisk pacing are again in evidence in his second Poseidon’s Children SF novel. Chiku Akinya was born on the Moon and grew up during a tranquil time in human history. Lacking major challenges to overcome, she feels inferior compared to her ancestors (whose achievements were chronicled in Blue Remembered Earth). To broaden her experiences, Akinya creates clones of herself, gives them her memories, and sends them off—one to journey to the stars in search of their ancestor Eunice, and one to help the quest for a new human home on the planet Crucible. The bulk of the book focuses on the latter Akinya, who makes some disturbing discoveries about the holoship she’s on and its target. While familiarity with the first book isn’t necessary, the complicated story structure may confuse both new and returning readers. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Flight of the Golden Harpy

Susan Klaus. Tor, $25.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3755-9

Klaus’s debut novel has an interesting setting, but immature writing and unrealistic dialogue get in its way. Kari returns to the planet Dora and her father, John, after a 10-year absence. She still pines for the indigenous golden harpy who saved her life, after which her harpy-hating father exiled her to Earth until she turned 21. Kari’s relationship with her father never rings quite true, and when she does reacquaint herself with the harpy, Shail, he is depicted as a noble savage rather than a rounded individual. John’s servants are also walking clichés: Charlie, a placid, nature-loving “old Indian,” preaches against the practice of hunting harpies for their wings, and Maria is a hand-wringing Latina who cooks, cleans, and frets. The planet Dora is well crafted, with a variety of biomes that allow Klaus to present an ecological message more nuanced than her plot and characterizations would imply. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Crown of Renewal

Elizabeth Moon. Del Rey, $26 (528p) ISBN 978-0-345-53309-8

The concluding volume of the Paladin’s Legacy fantasy quintet (after Limits of Power) is far more cerebral than action-focused, with layered plots tying up most of the threads among the main characters. Kieri and Arian, king and queen of Lyonya, are figuring out just how special their elven-blooded twin children are, and they must defend themselves and their newly-established elvenhome against an old villain Kieri thought long dead. Former thief Arvid Semminson is getting more responsibility than he bargained for, just in time to come to the aid of magic-wielding children threatened with murder. Duke Dorrin Verrakai of Tsaia is forced to make an almost certainly one-way trek to the wasteland of Aare, where many of her world’s legends began. The wrap-ups with longtime nemesis Alured the Black and Kieri’s enemy feel a bit too easy given all that’s come before, but otherwise the conclusions are satisfying and almost meditative amid multiple new beginnings. Agent: Joshua Bilmes, JABberwocky Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Very Best of Tad Williams

Tad Williams. Tachyon (IPG, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-1-61696-137-4

This marvelous short fiction retrospective testifies to the breadth of Williams’s creativity. All but one of these 17 otherworldly tales have appeared in magazines or anthologies, but fans will welcome the chance to have them all in one place. Several of the earlier pieces are particularly charming, including “The Old Scale Game,” with its thoroughly modern monsters, and “Every Fuzzy Beast of the Earth, Every Pink Fowl of the Air”, a chortling version of the book of Genesis. Williams effectively portrays poignant human regrets and longings in “Three Duets for Virgin and Nosehorn,” a miniature masterpiece, and explores the paradoxes of religious belief in “The Stranger’s Hands” and “And Ministers of Grace.” “A Stark and Wormy Knight,” a linguistic tour de force, shows without one misplaced word just how clever dragons can be. Williams’s sensitivity to atmosphere and trademark attention to telling detail shine through most of the selections in this varied collection of little gems. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Shadows & Dreams

Alexis Hall. Riptide (www.riptidepublishing.com), $6.99 e-book (362p) ISBN 978-1-62649-100-7

Hall follows Iron & Velvet with another urban fantasy tale masquerading as a lesbian love story. Faery princess and PI Kate Kane continues her headlong flight from bad situation to worse in the quest to balance romance and investigation with a near-infinite legion of former lovers and complicated machinations. While standing trial in front of the vampire council for a murder she had to commit, Kate accepts a missing person case that quickly escalates into an imbroglio of epic proportions. With the fate of London resting on her shoulders, Kate must prove her innocence to the vampires, save them from themselves, and earn a paycheck—all while being romantically tempted by a dizzying array of women. Tongue-in-cheek humor and sharp dialogue blend well to help the numerous and overly complex interpersonal relationships integrate with a fast-paced, multifaceted plot. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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