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We Install and Other Stories

Harry Turtledove. Open Road (openroadmedia.com), $14.99 trade paper (282p) ISBN 978-1-5040-0942-3

Turtledove (the War That Came Early series) is known for detailed, lengthy, and masterly alternate-history series. This collection proves that he’s just as talented at creating short stories, which here range from the pithy and humorous to the deeply lyrical and complex. Some gems include “Under St. Peter’s,” an alternate history in which a stunning secret is revealed about Catholicism; “Father of the Groom,” wherein a mad scientist’s bridezilla daughter-in-law gets an unexpected comeuppance; and “Drang Von Osten,” a sideways take on WWII. Three essays round out the collection—on the subjects of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels, methodologies of writing alternate history, and the celebration of Hanukkah—and give unique insight into his life as a writer. Turtledove’s prose is witty and inviting throughout. This is an excellent primer for those who haven’t read Turtledove’s other work, and a must-read for his longtime fans. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Sword for His Lady

Mary Wine. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0247-7

Widow and warrior face off in a battle of wills in this feisty launch of Wine’s Courtly Love series. Clever, competent Isabel of Camoys has been hardworking and enterprising since her husband’s death, resulting in a thriving estate that supports her well-fed populace. But her home of Thistle Keep is vulnerable; the estate is situated near the unstable Welsh border in 1189 England, and the men have left for the Crusades. King Richard the Lionheart dispatches his dutiful baron Ramon de Segrave, a seasoned soldier, to defend the area, preferably by wedding Isabel; she resists, fearing she will lose her independence to the headstrong Ramon. Meanwhile, Isabel’s evil former brother-in-law, Jacques Raeburn, plots to reclaim his brother’s land by forcibly marrying Isabel. Wine’s signature flirtatious banter fans the flames between the combative Isabel and Ramon, heightening their passion for each other. Kidnapping, poisoning, and a wicked courtesan all play parts in this spirited historical, helmed by a delightfully capable heroine. (July)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh

Katie Hamstead. Curiosity Quills, $2.99 e-book (258p) ASIN B00CL19O4E

A young woman captures the heart of the pharaoh Akhenaten and gives birth to King Tut in this dull romantic thriller, the first volume of a trilogy set in ancient Egypt. When Queen Nefertiti and Akhenaten’s secondary wives (including three of his own daughters) fail to produce an heir, Hebrew slave Naomi is torn from her family and sent to the desperate king’s bed to bear him a son. Renamed Kiya and forbidden to observe Judaic law, Naomi becomes a pawn in a complex power struggle among Akhenaten, trusted advisor Horemheb, and a wrathfully jealous Nefertiti. Not knowing whom to trust and knowing that trusting the wrong person would be fatal Kiya must weave her own political intrigues in order to survive the treachery that surrounds her. The concept is ripe with promise, but the unrealistic characterizations, anachronistic language, and overly expository writing make for a woefully unsatisfying reader experience. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Following His Heart

Donna Fasano. Hard Knock, $3.99 e-book (236p) ASIN B00QQRIKXA

Fasano (Find My Way Home) delivers tender honesty and sweet sexiness in this beach read set in Ocean City, N.J. The tourist season is winding down as Sara Carson, proprietor of a boardwalk bakery, finds herself in a plumbing crisis. She’s rescued by Landon Richards, a calm, brown-eyed Kansas farmer who happens to be passing through. He’s willing to work for room and board, which Sara and her friends are only too glad to offer, plagued as they are by building-maintenance woes. Sara is a young widow whose heart is just beginning to come out of the deep freeze, while Landon, confused and lonely after life-altering surgery and a family spat, is looking for resolution and peace. The light veneer of a quasi-scientific paranormal phenomenon provides the plot twist that experienced readers will see coming before the book is half over, but no matter. The pleasure of Fasano’s style lies in the scrumptious descriptions (even when food isn’t involved) and her characters’ sincere, mature desire to make things work. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Before I Fall

Jessica Scott. CreateSpace, $4.99 e-book (228p) ISBN 978-1-942102-15-1

Scott (HomeFront) starts off her Falling contemporary series with a story that focuses on the troubles of returning veterans and their families. Beth Lamont is the daughter of a wounded veteran, using his GI Bill benefits to get her business degree while working two jobs to keep up with his medical bills. Noah Warren has just come back from Iraq; getting his degree will fulfill a promise to his best friend, but he struggles with PTSD. When Beth is assigned to tutor Noah, she’s reluctant to work with him, but the two soon find ways past their first impressions to form a connection that neither expected. Beth and Noah’s relationship is realistic in its ups and downs; secondary characters are less well developed and the setting is generic. The strength of the story is the attention it pays to returning veterans’ need for physical and mental support, especially for their careers and families. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Captain’s Bluestocking Mistress

Erica Ridley. Intrepid Reads, $2.99 e-book (206p) ISBN 978-1-939713-30-8

Ridley’s second Dukes of War Regency (after The Earl’s Defiant Wallflower) proves that intellect doesn’t have to consign a woman to a lonely life. Jane Downing is tired of being forgotten, but she’s come to terms with her future as a spinster. When she encounters handsome Capt. Xavier Grey, she makes the rash decision to leave her London home, travel to his country cottage, and seduce him into a secret affair. While he details all of the reasons that she shouldn’t become involved with him, she learns the innermost secrets of his wartime days and tries to prove to him that she wants to understand the man behind the heroic image. It soon becomes apparent that succumbing to lust might lead to greater emotional involvement. While the plot is somewhat predictable, the characters are affable, and humor is ever present thanks to a chaperoning cat. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Courtship of the Cake

Jessica Topper. Berkley, $16 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-425-27685-3

Topper’s second Much “I Do” About Nothing contemporary is entertaining, but it falls short of the high mark set by Dictatorship of the Dress. When beautiful Dani meets Mick at her sister’s wedding, they share one hot night, but he goes missing the next morning, along with many of the wedding gifts. Shortly thereafter, Dani takes a job as a masseuse for famous singer Nash. There’s no chemistry between Nash and Dani, but his health and home life are in desperate need of revitalization, and he asks Dani to pretend to be his wife. They head to Nash’s hometown to meet a host of predictable characters, including Quinn, the resentful mother of Nash’s child. Coincidentally, Mick (who seems to have bedded every women in the county since his unforgettable tryst with Dani) also happens to live in that same town. The constant flipping between Dani and Mick’s perspectives is confusing at times, but this tale’s secrets and romance satisfy. Agent: Nalini Akolekar, Spencerhill Associates. (June)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Trust Me

Claire Lorrimer. Severn, $28.95 hardcover (192p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8499-2

Lorrimer’s (Obsession) romantic thriller is short on romance and weak on suspense. Toni, a magazine editor’s assistant, meets wealthy playboy Justin at a London party, and within a few weeks they decide to marry. Her parents ask them to wait until the end of the year, so they take a trip to Spain in lieu of their planned honeymoon. There Justin flirts with another woman, leading Toni to doubt their relationship. In turn, Toni makes eyes at Aaron, a temporarily paralyzed man who was injured in a skiing accident that killed his wife. When food poisoning lands Toni in the hospital, she gets to know Aaron while Justin flies home for a golfing expedition. Toni constantly mulls over her jealousy toward Justin and friendship with Aaron, which drastically slows the pace, but all this introspection makes her no less naive. Meanwhile, readers know what she doesn’t: Aaron killed his wife in that supposed accident. Endless complications pile up into an untidy heap of an ending. (July)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Marriage Act

Alyssa Everett. Carina, $4.99 e-book (271p) ISBN 978-1-4592-9003-7

Everett (An Heir of Uncertainty) ignites sparks between wedded strangers in this tender Regency romance. Caroline, Lady Welford, has just been reunited with her husband, John, Lord Welford, after he served five years in diplomatic service. She believes that her father is dying, and John agrees to travel with her to her father’s home in Kegworth, where they will pretend to have a perfect marriage. But John still hasn’t forgiven Caro for trying to run off with a militia officer on their wedding night. Throughout their lengthy journey and subsequent stay in Kegworth, they begin to not only work through their misunderstandings but learn to forgive and trust. But Caro’s cousin Sophia’s flirtations with John threaten to destroy their newfound truce. Caro is an especially strong and determined heroine, whose ability to persevere despite her husband’s desertion of her makes her a very admirable character. Intense and ever-present romantic tension propel the novel to its emotional conclusion. (July)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Hell or High Water

Julie Ann Walker. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0890-5

Bestseller Walker (Full Throttle) launches her Deep Six series with this winning romantic thriller. It opens with a terrifying glimpse of the treasure ship Santa Cristina sinking in a 1624 hurricane, then switches to the present day. Former Lt. Leo Anderson, along with five other SEALs turned civilians, are on a tiny island in the Florida Keys, preparing to locate the lost ship and salvage the treasure. CIA operative Olivia Mortier, who worked with Leo 18 months earlier, asks him to help retrieve three capsules of deadly chemicals that were lost overboard by incompetent terrorists. Complications abound in this well-plotted adventure of chilling hijackings, heartbreaking good-byes, and exciting underwater exploits. Walker blends the tender romance of a reassuring touch with lusty sex scenes, and her dialogue is spot-on. Readers will be panting for the next in the series. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymour Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/01/2015 | Details & Permalink

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