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Exit Strategy

Lena Diaz. Avon, $5.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-234908-8

Romantic suspense author Diaz (the Deadly Games series) launches a series with this fast-paced and completely unlikely tale of pursuit. Sabrina Hightower moves to North Carolina to investigate the deaths of her brother and parents, as well as the mysterious disappearance of her grandfather. Before she makes any progress, she’s attacked by sexy assassin Mason Hunt. He never fails to take out his target, but when he realizes that Sabrina is not actually a terrorist, he snatches her in an effort to protect her from his employer, EXIT Inc., a well-intentioned but completely disorganized company of vigilantes. Once they’re on the run together from EXIT, Sabrina is improbably Mason’s match in valor and marksmanship, even without her glasses. Her skill is a powerful aphrodisiac that leads to romance despite the relentless pursuit that interrupts every clinch. The complete absence of a believable plot or convincing characters will not prevent fans of romantic thrillers from enjoying this sizzling, jeopardy-filled chase. Agent: Nalini Akolekar, Spencerhill Associates. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Vipers Rule

Stephanie Tyler. Signet Eclipse, $7.99 mass-market (384p) ISBN 978-0-451-47047-8

Tyler combines high-octane drama and red-hot love scenes in her solid second Skulls Creek contemporary (after Vipers Run). After Maddie Wells’s marriage falls apart, she heads home to tiny Skulls Creek, S.C. Tals Garrity leaves the army and goes back to a different band of brothers: his fellow members in Skulls Creek’s Vipers Motorcycle Club. Tals’s twin, Tenn, isn’t exactly thrilled to see the privileged Maddie come back into his brother’s life, given that she hurt Tals badly in high school. But when it becomes obvious someone is targeting Maddie, the brothers team up with the other members of the club to keep her safe. Tals is the consummate bad boy with a heart of gold, and Maddie a classic damsel in distress. But Tyler’s skillful storytelling keeps both characters from being stereotypes, and their story is a sensual treat. Agent: Laura Bradford, Laura Bradford Literary Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Luckiest

Mila McWarren. Interlude (interludepress.com), $16.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-941530-39-9

McWarren’s debut achieves moments of passion in a simple story of wish fulfillment. When Aaron gets word that his childhood friend Alex is getting married, he eagerly answers her call to go home and coordinate the event. But one of many complications is that Nik, Aaron’s high school boyfriend, is slated to be best man at the wedding. McWarren unravels events in fits and starts, leaping forward and backward in time through excerpts from characters’ blogs and emails. The predictable events surrounding the wedding are detailed to tedium and served poorly by various style choices: emphatic italics and capitalization attempt to inject feeling into an otherwise dull narrative, and lengthy passages uninterrupted by paragraph breaks lead occasionally to confusion. However, when Nik and Aaron finally reunite, their connection is passionate and satisfying. The earnest rendering of the characters gives them a bit of substance, and the loving environment created by longtime friendships is warm and welcoming. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Prince’s Gambit

C.S. Pacat. Berkley, $16 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-425-27427-9

Pacat’s second Captive Prince erotic political romantic fantasy novel, set in a well-drawn fantasy world, continues to follow Damen, Prince of Akielos, who has been enslaved by Laurent, heir to the neighboring and enemy country of Vere. Laurent’s uncle, the regent of Vere, sends Laurent to the border between Akielos and Vere with a group of undertrained soldiers as part of a plot to start a war, kill Laurent, and take the kingship. Damen is torn between wanting his freedom (and protecting his own country’s interests) and his growing admiration and affection for Laurent (and hatred of the Regent’s poisonous political intrigues). Laurent schemes for his life in a setting where it’s impossible to have any idea who is trustworthy. Interlocking layers of betrayal and a realistically complicated unfolding romance help cushion the book against the sense that the overall political plot is waiting to unleash its true potential in the next installment. Pacat sometimes depends too much on romance tropes to propel the characters’ relationships forward, but the writing is assured, intelligent, and consistently entertaining. Agent: Emily Sylvan Kim, Prospect Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Summer at the Shore

V.K. Sykes. Grand Central/Forever, $6 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4555-5255-9

Sykes (a pseudonym for spouses Vanessa Kelly and Randall Sykes) follows Meet Me at the Beach with this well-wrought smalltown romance. Ryan Butler has decided to come back to Seashell Bay, Maine, after taking a break from working for a private military contracting company. While looking for a house to rent, he trades handyman work for room and board in order to stay at the Golden Sunset, a bed-and-breakfast owned by Morgan Merrifield. Ryan and Morgan can’t deny the sexual attraction between them, but she knows he’ll leave at the end of the summer, and she doesn’t plan on getting involved with a man only to have her heart broken. The friendship and tight-knit bonds among the islanders provide a sense of community as they band together to help Morgan save the Golden Sunset from financial ruin—and to bring Ryan and Morgan together for good. Well-developed characters and a realistic plot give depth to this sweet contemporary. Agent: Evan Marshall, Evan Marshall Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ask Me Why

Jodi Thomas, Marie Force, Virginia Kantra, and Shirley Jump. Jove, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-515-15538-9

Each of the four authors brings something uniquely touching to this collection of contemporary romantic novellas, all of which have taking a dare as the central impetus to love, from the sweet stirrings of rekindled affections to the nervous bliss of a wedding day. Though it’s a bit of a slow start to the collection, “Midnight Bet” is tinged with suspense as two parallel romantic story lines return readers to Thomas’s popular setting of Harmony, Tex., where love is found in unexpected places. This nicely leads to Force’s sappy “You’ll Be Mine,” a slightly spicy, wholly joyful wedding in the wilds of Butler, Vt., that blends families and friendships with heartwarming humor. Jump’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger” asks what happens when a longtime friendship between two colleagues suddenly blossoms into more. In Kantra’s excellent and emotional “Carolina Heart,” tied to her series set in Dare Island, N.C., a single mother with a history of heartbreak dares to take a chance on love with her high school crush. The authors’ styles are distinct, and the novellas complement each other, all with completely satisfying happy endings. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Put Up Your Duke

Megan Frampton. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-235222-4

Frampton’s second Dukes Behaving Badly romance (after The Duke’s Guide to Correct Behavior) is pure delight. In 1842 London, Nicholas Smithfield, a rakish young buck, is more than a bit chagrined to discover he’s become the Duke of Gage—and completely flummoxed to find that with his new title comes engagement to the icily proper Lady Isabella Sawford. Isabella’s no more pleased than her intended; she chafes against the socially advantageous match her self-serving parents have forced her to accept, the latest in a lifelong series of edicts that have squelched her true spirit. Yet she and Nicholas can’t deny the increasing excitement they feel in each other’s presence. Will that be enough for them to embrace their union? Frampton pays equal service to character development and sensual tension—the latter both steamy and sweet—and sprinkles moments of humor throughout, including a delightful subplot about a pseudonymous novel writer. Historical romance fans will relish this realistic and emotionally charged story. Agent: Louise Fury, Bent Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Red Sulphur: The Greatest Mystery in Alchemy

Robert Bosnak. Red Sulphur, $3.99 e-book (504p) ISBN 978-0-9909321-0-9

Bosnak debuts with a high-stakes fantastical tale set largely in the Netherlands during the late 17th century. Mundanus, an Italian alchemist, sets out on a mission to visit the venerated Dutch physician Helvetius. He brings with him the famed Philosopher’s Stone, forcing Helvetius to reconsider his skepticism of alchemy. Meanwhile, Mundanus is drawn to Helvetius’s wife, Marianne, who is herself an alchemist, and to her ailing niece, Clara. Mundanus and Marianne begin to use an alchemical compound called red sulphur in experiments, many of which have life-altering effects. He also hopes to prove himself a better physician than Helvetius by curing Clara’s lingering illness. Occasional modern colloquialisms and phrasing hinder the flow, and the atmosphere suffers as a result. However, Bosnak excels at depicting human drama, particularly the love triangle among Mundanus, Marianne, and Clara. Bosnak’s characters are three-dimensional, and the interactions among them are often thought provoking. The fantastical elements assist but never overshadow the main story, and the characters’ emotional entanglements are balanced by a complex plot with a well-realized historical setting. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Patron of the Arts

William Rotsler. Digital Parchment Services (digitalparchmentservices.com), $9.99 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-61508-582-8

Rotsler’s 1974 novel falls far short of the classic stature or timeless appeal that would justify this 2015 edition. Brian Thorne, one of the richest men in the 22nd century, abandons his carefree life of womanizing to find out whether a dead civilization on newly colonized Mars holds the key to travel beyond the solar system. Eurocentric naming conventions on Mars and the use of dated terms such as oriental mark Rotsler’s prose as a product of its time. The portrayal of women is appalling: they are dehumanized into objects of art, described in lurid terms, and given value only in their ability to sexually please the protagonist. No woman has individual agency, and descriptions not involving breasts are sparse and underdeveloped (“a formless form, a rainbow in the shape of a shape”). This is science fiction as male power fantasy and is unlikely to engage modern readers of any gender. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Steel Victory

J.L. Gribble. Raw Dog Screaming/Dog Star (rawdogscreaming.com), $14.95 trade paper (215p) ISBN 978-1-935738-73-2

Gribble’s debut, a blend of apocalyptic SF, alternate history, and the paranormal, shows promise despite a few flaws. In this time line, Rome never fell, and by the year 2094 C.E., America is primarily a nuclear wasteland. The independent city-state of Limani, home to the (mostly) retired vampire mercenary Victory, is caught between two warring international powers. One nation’s expansion plans threaten all Victory holds dear. The innovative combination of genres is appealing, and Gribble’s multiple story lines—invasion, anti-creature bias, and intercity politics—mesh very well together. Some too-polished narrative asides attempt to address every question a reader might have. The language is generally strong, but it gets a bit tin-eared when Gribble alludes to current events by having “humanists” refuse service to magic-users and creatures. This is a solid first effort that sets the stage for more installments in an intriguing world with complex characters. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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