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Alone and Not Alone

Ron Padgett. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (84p) ISBN 978-1-56689-401-2

Can a prolific poet produce a breakthrough book after age 70? Padgett might have done it here: the casual, almost diffident, jazz-influenced New York School poet, whose Collected Poems won the L.A. Times Book Prize in 2013, follows up with a volume whose charm, ease, and humor should please casual readers unfamiliar with his previous work as well as fans who have enjoyed him for decades. “Reality has a transparent veneer,” he quips, “that looks exactly like the veneer beneath it”; Padgett’s clear, even faux-naive poems sometimes imitate ballads and nursery rhymes, or else veer into sweetly bizarre anecdotes in prose. He pays attention to how children think and to what grown-ups can learn from them—the collection is dedicated to his son, Wayne, and features poems about his grandson, Marcello. Zhuangzi’s butterfly, self-propelled lawn furniture, “the Step Theory of Reality/ and its by-product the Ziggurat Configuration” all pop out of poems that connect the poet to the world he enjoys. “Don’t go around all day/ thinking about life,” Padgett advises; “doing so will raise a barrier/ between you and its instants./ You need those instants,” he continues “and I need you to be in them with me.” A poet who can say that after decades of work deserves many admirers. (May)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The State We’re In

Ann Beattie. Scribner, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-1-5011-0781-8

The 15 loosely connected stories in Beattie’s latest collection, set on Maine’s southern coast, feature drifting adults and their rootless offspring at seemingly unimportant moments that are in fact critical. In “What Magical Realism Would Be,” a high school student living with her aunt and uncle rants about summer school. “Writing essays was retarded,” Jocelyn asserts. “It totally was.” Jocelyn prefers nights on the beach with friends. “Road Movie” describes an unlucky tryst at a California hotel; “The Fledgling” shows an ungainly attempt to rescue a wayward bird; Elvis lamps are auctioned off in “The Repurposed Barn,” in which Jocelyn sees her teacher in a new light. “Adirondack Chairs” uses furniture to reflect a couple’s abandoned future; in “The Little Hutchinsons,” a wedding hosted by the titular characters goes awry. In “Missed Calls,” an encounter between a photographer’s widow and a writer distracted by concern for his stepdaughter starts with the widow’s memory of Truman Capote but becomes an unsettling view of the stepdaughter and her family. “Major Maybe,” in which a Portland doctor remembers 1980s New York, begins with a woman getting hit by a car, then weaves its way back to the narrator, her roommate, and the flower in their apartment window. The collection demonstrates Beattie’s craftsmanship, precise language, and her knack for revealing psychological truths. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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That Chesapeake Summer

Mariah Stewart. S&S/. Pocket, $7.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9257-6

Stewart’s ninth Chesapeake Diaries contemporary romance (after On Sunset Beach) deftly uses the tools of the genre to explore issues of identity, truth, and smalltown kinship. Bestselling self-help author Jamie Valentine has made a fortune writing books about honesty. When her widowed mother dies, Jamie is blindsided by her parents’ secret: she was adopted. Grief and the irony of discovering that her life is based on a lie send Jamie into an introspective, identity-seeking tailspin, and she decides to look for her birth mother. Following clues, Jamie heads to the picturesque small town of St. Dennis, along the Chesapeake Bay. Soon she’s apprehensively romancing the inn’s owner, single father Dan Sinclair, and befriending his clairvoyant mother, Grace, while getting to know the lovely, well-mannered, sociable people of St. Dennis. Stewart offers a strong statement on the power of love and trust, a fitting theme for this big-hearted smalltown romance. Agent: Nick Mullendore, Loretta Barrett Books. (July)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Power Play

Tiffany Snow. Grand Central/Forever, $6 mass market (362p) ISBN SBN 978-1-4555-3285-8

In one corner of Snow’s latest sexy love triangle, which kicks off the Risky Business series, is Sage Reese, a socialite and executive administrative assistant. In the second corner is her boss, Parker Anderson, a cool, calculating, high-powered Chicago investment executive. In the third is Det. Dean Ryker of the Chicago Police. As Sage narrates the predictable story about her unrequited love for fellow highbrow Parker and her visceral attraction to the dangerous and lowbrow Dean, it’s easier to get seduced by the gripping subplot about the Russian Mafia. Strangely, though the two men are the ones dealing with the mobsters, innocent bystander Sage is the only one to suffer a couple of nasty beatings—which she’s more than willing to take in defense of her boss, despite his almost-certain involvement in criminal activity. After the initial appearance of Dean, who has a history with Parker and falls instantly for Sage, readers will wonder what on Earth possesses the young woman to stay loyal to the aloof-to-a-fault exec. A cliffhanger leaves the romantic resolution for later installments. Agent: Kevin Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Daughter of an Earl

Victoria Morgan. Berkley Sensation, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-0-425-28077-5

Romance and mystery mix well in this complex sequel to The Heart of a Duke, set in Regency England. Lady Emily Chandler enlists American shipping company owner Brett Curtis in her quest to prove that her former fiancé, Jason, was murdered. As they hunt for clues, they realize that their constant sparring stems from their strong attraction. Emily suggests that they have an affair, as she has committed to never marrying, but Brett is reluctant to take her up on her offer. Though their days are filled with following leads, Emily plans to fill their nights with her efforts at seduction. But she doesn’t anticipate that her feelings for Brett will involve more than mere lust. This intelligent, sensual historical is filled with engaging wit, a healthy dose of intrigue, and scintillating romance. Agent: Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Sweet as Sin

J.T. Geissinger. Amazon/Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (391p) ISBN 978-1-4778-3086-4

Geissinger (Into Darkness) leaves behind the paranormal and moves into the contemporary romance field with the high-tension story of Hollywood makeup artist Kat Reid and rock star Nico Nyx. It’s love at first sight when Kat is hired to do the makeup for Nico’s newest music video. She has many misgivings and assumptions about Nico’s motives, but he’s determined to prove his genuine devotion. As the couple get closer, they must navigate press attention, Kat’s disapproving friends, and Nico’s relationship with a troubled model, as well as their own past experiences and emotional traumas. When Nico’s unstable brother returns to his life, the culture shock between Nico’s lifestyle and Kat’s history comes to a head. An undercurrent of violent jealousy may be troubling to some readers, as will the glossing over of Kat’s career and ambition in the face of Nico’s fame. However, the core relationships—not just Nico and Kat, but also Kat’s friendships with her companions, Grace and Chloe—are solid and complex. (July)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Second Chance Summer

Jill Shalvis. Grand Central/Forever, $6 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-4555-8673-8

Shalvis knows all the right buttons to push with characters Lily Danville and Aiden Kincaid, a junk-food junkie and a former not-really-so-bad boy who share a hometown and a history of poor choices. Lily is fired from a tony San Diego beauty salon by her unscrupulous boss and forced to go back home to Cedar Ridge, Colo., to regroup, until she can find another job and escape the small town again. Lily is a beautiful everywoman as she binges on convenience store snack foods and encounters Aiden at the worst possible moment. It may have been 10 years since the death of Lily’s sister, Ashley, but Lily is still grieving, and the last thing she wants is to spend time with the guy Ashley had a big crush on. But Aiden, now a firefighter and a hero of the civilian group Search and Rescue, has always carried a torch for Lily, and he has no intention of letting her get away again. The flubs and flaws are hilarious, the grief feels credible, and the sparks fly in this solid, light romance from the always-reliable Shalvis. Agent: Robin Rue, Writers House. (July)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Untamed

Diana Palmer. HQN, $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-373-78843-9

Mercenary and secret agent Stanton Rourke risks his life on a daily basis, and he’ll go out on a limb even for people he despises, such as journalist Clarisse “Tat” Carrington. He extracts her from a refugee camp deep in Africa, and then supports her when she gets into other scrapes in South America. Tat doesn’t understand why Stanton is so rude and harsh whenever they interact, but that doesn’t stop her from loving him, even from a distance. When Stanton learns that his beliefs about Tat are based on nothing but lies, they quickly come together. Palmer (Protector) proves that love and passion can be found even in the most dangerous situations. Even when she employs the oft-derided amnesia trope, somehow it doesn’t feel worn or silly; Tat simply moves on with her life without Stanton, landing in Jacobsville, Tex. (and interacting with many couples from Palmer’s long-running Long, Tall Texans series). He follows as quickly as he can, and as enemies from around the world track them to this tiny corner of Texas, Stanton ably proves to Tat that she can count on his love and protection. Readers don’t need to be familiar with Palmer’s work to enjoy this contemporary romantic thriller. (July)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ride Steady

Kristen Ashley. Grand Central/Forever, $8 mass market (640p) ISBN 978-1-4555-3322-0

Ashley packs passion and pathos into the third Chaos Motorcycle Club contemporary (after Fire Inside). In high school, kindly Carissa Teodoro had it all—or at least it looked that way to Carson Steele, whose father used him for a punching bag. Fast-forward seven years, and circumstances have changed drastically. Carson, now known as Joker, comes across a struggling Carissa and her infant son when they’re stranded on the side of the interstate by a flat tire. Her ex-husband, who was popular in their high school class, is now a total jerk and determined to make her life miserable. Though she doesn’t recognize Carson at first, Carissa quickly falls for the protective man on a motorcycle and is soon adopted by his club, whose members have hearts of gold. But when Carissa’s ex and a separate outside threat imperil not only the group’s happiness but their lives, Joker has a tough decision to make: hold on to the woman he’s always loved and let her heal him, or push her away for everyone’s safety. Ashley’s skillfully drawn characters jump off the page and the suspenseful plot will keep readers engaged to the very end. This is a worthy addition to the Chaos series. Agent: Emily Kim, Prospect Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Duke Can Go to the Devil

Erin Knightley. Signet, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-0-451-47365-3

The third Prelude to a Kiss Regency romance (after The Earl I Adore) is as standardized and straightforward as a child’s violin recital. When Mei-Li Bradford first arrived in Bath, she felt friendless and alone. But even with her ever-disapproving aunt hindering her, she finds pleasure at a summertime music festival, performing in a trio with young women who become her friends. Her summer delights are interrupted by the arrival of the festival’s patron, William Spencer, Duke of Radcliffe. Since both he and she are stubborn, rude, and self-righteous, with bad tempers and worse chemistry, their romance proceeds with tedious predictability. Knightly conveys their attraction in the expected style and unfolds events by the numbers. There are moments of warmth and humor as the conclusion carefully fills in the requirements for resolution, despite obvious improbabilities. While there are no surprises and very little tension, the ongoing spats and misunderstandings provide the expected levels of drama. Knightly delivers on her promises without going outside the limitations of the form. Agent: Deidre Knight, Knight Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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