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Dirty like Me

Jaine Diamond. Jaine Diamond, $2.99 e-book (301p) ASIN B01KAKAU2M

The sparks fly when a Vancouver-based rock star hires a struggling artist first to appear in his new video and then to act as his girlfriend as he goes on tour across North America. Katie Bloom has no intention of being known as rocker Jesse Mayes’s latest fling, but the money is too good to pass up, and she’s secretly intrigued by Jesse’s blend of roguish charm and private playfulness. Their mutual attraction is impossible to deny, and what starts off as a performance for the cameras soon turns real, with the two lovers burning up the sheets even as Jesse’s album burns up the charts. But they both know it’s only for the duration of the tour, and Katie can’t wait to get back to a normal life. For this first entry in the Dirty contemporary romance series, Diamond (Deep) crafts a spicy, sassy, sexy romance with likable characters who share intense chemistry, and populates it with a memorable, entertaining supporting cast. It feels like Katie and Jesse take forever to realize their obvious feelings for one another, but their story is still satisfying. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Deep End

Kristen Ashley. St. Martin’s Griffin, $15.99 trade paperback (480p) ISBN 978-1-250-12111-0

At excruciating length, Ashley (Ride Steady) immerses readers in the flimsy world of Phoenix’s exclusive, no-boundaries Bee’s Honey club, where men explore erotic submission. After an extended and boring meet-cute, Amélie, a trained and experienced dominatrix, repeatedly tests alpha-submissive Olivier in the private rooms to see whether their sexual chemistry will persist outside of their relationship in the club. Risibly calling him her “chevalier” and “steed,” Amélie wastes no time exploring Olivier inside and out. Scene after scene in the club and at Amélie’s ranch might be enjoyable if readers felt invested in the characters, but little is revealed about their history, family, work, or motivations. Amélie has great wealth and hates that her job requires her to travel; beyond that, her actual career is vague. Working-class Olivier hangs out with a group of guys at a lower-end BDSM club; some of his buddies, whose connection is only clarified late in the book, will inevitably star in future installments. Endless scenes of naked bodies interrupted by scant and awkward conversation make for tedious reading and will limit Ashley’s ability to build a series whose readers care about the characters. Agent: Emily Sylvan Kim, Prospect Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Mother’s Love

Charlotte Hubbard. Kensington, $16.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4967-0844-1

Hubbard (Christmas at Promise Lodge) gently challenges Amish gender roles in this endearing romance loosely linked to her Seasons of the Heart series. Rose Raber, a recent widow living in a close-knit Amish community, learns from her mother’s deathbed confession that she was adopted. Rose’s birth mother was an unwed teenager who still fears the revelation of her transgression. While coping with this news, Rose feels compelled to find work to provide for herself and her young daughter, despite pressure from her bishop to rely on the community’s kindness. When Rose’s highly marriageable suitor, widower Matthias Wagler, enters into a business arrangement with Saul Hartzler, who’s married to Rose’s birth mother, the secret can only stay hidden so long, and when it comes out, Rose struggles to mitigate the damage. Matthias and Rose’s romance builds naturally and sweetly as they learn to imagine futures without their first spouses. Hubbard crafts self-reliant women willing to hold their ground amid domineering men, though happy coincidences and quick changes of heart resolve most conflicts. By making a space for determined women inside the Amish community and providing a satisfying conclusion to various familial hurts, Hubbard provides readers with a comforting tale of love and forgiveness. Agent: Evan Marshall, Evan Marshall Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Feast of the Raven

Catherine Spacer. Quillstone, $16.95 trade paper (254p) ISBN 978-0-9971535-0-7

A warrior has a crisis of faith in Spader’s thin medieval adventure of pagans versus Christians. In 782 Germania, Saxon pagans are forced by the Frank King Karl (Charlemagne) to abandon their old gods and convert to Christianity. Gerwulf, born from a Saxon wolf warrior father and a Christian Frank mother, yearns to purge his mystical wolf nature and embrace the Christian god with the help of colorful Brother Pyttel. He hopes that if he tracks down the rebel Saxon Widukind and retrieves Karl’s powerful relic, the Holy Spear, the king will absolve him of his pagan sins. But he’s distracted by the charms of Widukind’s accomplice, the magical shieldmaiden Vala, who worships Wodan and draws Gerwulf in with the hunger of the Raven spirit, the Eater of Souls. Historically accurate settings of the Hellweg, Lippespringe, and Teutoburg Forest are lovely; the sprawling plot and lengthy diversions are all the more unfortunate by comparison. Gerwulf frets convincingly over his soul, but the other characters lack dimension. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Black City Demon

Richard A. Knaak. Pyr, $18 trade paper (340p) ISBN 978-1-63388-275-1

The enjoyable second Black City urban fantasy (after Black City Saint) picks up in early 20th-century Chicago, where Saint George, now going by Nick Medea, sits in front of the grave of an incarnation of his lost princess, Cleolinda. He and his loyal companion, Fetch, are attacked by a Wyld, a fairy creature from beyond the gate Nick has protected for 1,600 years. The novel unfolds like a mystery as curious characters and mutilated corpses pop up, some with supernatural origins. Knaak keeps the reader engaged in both the Chicago of the 1900s and the world of Feirie beyond the gate. New readers will catch up quickly, but Knaak’s efforts to draw them in leaves returning readers wading through some too-familiar material. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Darkness Whispers

Richard Chizmar and Brian James Freeman. Scarlet Galleon, $35 (160p) ISBN 978-0-692-78623-9

Anthology editors Chizmar (the Shivers series) and Freeman (the Dark Screams series) build tension and hook readers but ultimately disappoint with this svelte tale of modern small-town life gone wrong. When a stranger comes to tiny Windbrook, Penn., to test its claim as “PA’s Friendliest Town,” gruesome murder and mayhem follow. Sheriff Benjamin Logan, a traumatized military veteran, investigates the uncharacteristic violence besetting the town, darting from one crime scene to the next until he finally confronts the stranger and faces his ultimate challenge. The characters are instantly engaging, and the story moves at such a satisfying clip that readers will regret their rapid arrival at the weak ending, which suffers from a painfully clichéd twist. The volume also contains two bonus stories: Chizmar’s “The Meek Shall Inherit” follows two boys investigating a neighbor they suspect of being a serial killer and displays the same comfortable prose marking the main story; Freeman’s “What they Left Behind” is a tense exploration of a haunted office building abandoned after a mysterious fire. Both stories fall flat at the end, leaving readers to wish for fresher ideas or deeper thematic content. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Infernal Parade

Clive Barker. Subterranean, $30 (88p) ISBN 978-1-59606-807-0

More a series of vignettes than a structured story, this novella elaborates one of horror maven Barker’s favorite themes: the close proximity of the human and the monstrous. Executed murderer Tom Requiem is resurrected by agents of the Underland to lead the titular parade, which will “send some fears into the hearts of men.” Over the next five chapters, Requiem expands his entourage to include the person he murdered, a homicidal golem, a gaggle of circus freaks, a mythical monster known as the Sabbaticus, and a young woman tortured to death in an iron maiden. Several of these chapters have only a tenuous connection to the frame narrative. Barker draws the reader in by giving his horrors a human dimension and describing them with his usual cinematic vividness. Hardcore Barker fans will snap this title up, in part for six illustrations by the author. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Thunderbird: A Miriam Black Novel

Chuck Wendig. Saga, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4814-4871-0

In Wendig’s explosive, long-awaited fourth book to feature Miriam Black (after 2013’s The Cormorant), Miriam hunts for a woman called Mary Scissors, who might be able to rid her of the power that has ruined her life: when Miriam touches someone, she sees when and how they will die. Miriam has been to hell and back more times than she can count. She wants to live her life in peace, and her grim gift just won’t let her. When she happens upon a woman traveling with a young boy, Miriam sees the woman’s shooting death in a vision; to prevent the murder, she kills the shooter. This act leads her to a doomsday group called the Coming Storm that will do anything to get their hands on the boy. Exhausted and haunted by an entity she calls the Trespasser, Miriam, along with her scarred, vulnerable friend Gabby, must find the boy before it’s too late for them all. This gritty, full-throttle series is what urban fantasy is all about, with bitter humor rounding out lyrical writing. It’s easy to root for this mouthy, rude, insensitive, but innately good young woman, and her story hits the reader like a double shot of rotgut. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Waking Gods: Book 2 of the Themis Files

Sylvain Neuvel. Del Rey, $28 (352) ISBN 978-1-101-88672-4

Neuvel’s sequel to Sleeping Giants, told through interviews, reports, emails, and other documents, shares the first volume’s successes and flaws. Earth has been gifted with a gigantic robot, Themis, now crewed by Capt. Kara Resnik and civilian consultant Vincent Couture. Its ostensible purpose is to protect the Earth from danger. Another robot appears in the center of London and turns hostile after being surrounded by the British military; in a scene reminiscent of The War of the Worlds, it wipes out half of the city. Using Themis, Resnik and Couture destroy the alien machine, though more through luck than skill. Soon a dozen more giant machines show up in great cities around the world and begin to systematically exterminate humans. Not even Themis would seem to have any hope of defeating them. The epistolary nature of the narrative sometimes comes across as artificial, and the slangy dialogue is repetitive and annoying. Still, this is an exciting adventure story, unusually presented, and should particularly appeal to readers of the first volume. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Custer Conspiracy

Dennis Koller. Pen, $14.99 trade paper (348p) ISBN 978-0-9980808-0-2

What if the true story of Custer’s last stand was quite different from the accepted version? That’s the intriguing premise of Koller’s second thriller featuring homicide inspector Tom McGuire of the San Francisco PD (after 2016’s The Oath). McGuire, who was once a high school football coach, is pleasantly surprised to hear from a former player, historian Matt Conroy, who’s working on a book about Custer. Conroy has just confirmed a discovery about the Battle of the Little Bighorn that could “possibly rewrite the past hundred and forty years of world history.” McGuire agrees to meet Conroy at the battle site, but on arrival he finds that a sniper has just murdered the historian. McGuire reaches out to another former player, Rob Kincaid, an ex–Navy SEAL, to help him find the truth after the U.S. Park Police and the FBI are taken off the homicide inquiry. The romance that develops between McGuire and Katelyn Murray, a member of Kincaid’s team who got her airplane pilot’s license at the age of 13, adds some human interest. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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