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Crossing the Line

Caitlyn Armistead. Devoted Love (devlovepress.com), $14.99 trade paper (322p) ISBN 978-0-9858263-6-9

In this stodgy debut, Armstead infuses medical suspense with romance, but neither manages to jolt the heart. The last thing paramedic Megan Henderson needs is to make up for a useless partner, so when her regular partner goes on medical leave, she’s less than thrilled to find out the substitute, Nathan Thompson, is an amputee combat medic. Nathan is fully capable of carrying out his duties, and he makes that clear to everyone he works with, especially condescending Megan. Soon friendship replaces rivalry. When he finds out her bruises are not casualties of the job but were caused by her abusive police officer husband, he steps in to be her white knight, while Megan wrestles with her growing love for Nathan and her devotion to her marriage. Perhaps believing that readers won’t accept a cheating heroine, even one who’s being battered by her husband, Armistead resolutely limits Megan and Nathan’s connection to discussions of their work. With constant descriptions of medical techniques, the story reads more like a med school textbook with a hint of romance than an actual romance novel. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Bollywood Bride

Sonali Dev. Kensington, $15 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-61773-015-3

Dev (A Bollywood Affair) replaces true connection with overdone drama in this middling contemporary romance. Bollywood star Ria, who lives and works in Mumbai, returns to Chicago for the first time in 10 years for her cousin’s wedding. There she meets Vikram, with whom she was in a serious relationship as an adolescent, and the two of them have to deal with the brutal way Ria broke up with him at the start of her film career. Ria had reasons beyond the attractions of stardom to consider herself ineligible for a relationship, and those reasons intrude between the two as they rekindle their romance. The cultural details of Mumbai and of Chicago’s Indian immigrant community are well-handled, and the book’s attitude toward mental illness is an interesting cross between Indian and American social norms. But a lack of real communication between the lovers renders the plot unbelievable, and it never acquires any emotional weight. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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All the Beautiful Brides

Rita Herron. Amazon/Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (341p) ISBN 978-1-5039-4550-0

Poorly fleshed-out characters with even poorer motivations for their actions undercut this contemporary romantic suspense series launch from Herron (the Slaughter Creek series). In Graveyard Falls, Tenn., a body has been found with a rose stuffed into its mouth, mimicking the method used in a series of grisly murders years earlier. FBI agent Cal Coulter is called in to consult, and as he investigates, he does his best to ignore that the town is where his best friend’s widow, Mona, has moved. Mona wants to look into her family history, and only knows that she was born in the town around the time of the original murders. There’s certainly the core of a solid suspense plot here, but so many choices—including Mona’s inexplicable delay in starting her own research, the FBI’s choice to send Cal in before the cops have had time to investigate the scene, and the sheriff’s railroading of the original investigation—seem arbitrary and forced, and few of the twists are worth the reader’s time. Agent: Jenny Bent, Bent Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Night’s Surrender

Amanda Ashley. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3735-4

The enjoyable seventh book in Ashley’s Children of the Night series (after Night’s Promise) once again demonstrates her impressive talent for steady plotting, distinctive characters, and clever, inventive stories. A car accident ends the anticipated first date between 26-year-old Abbey Marie Cordova, the only human in her family who has not yet accepted the “Dark Gift” of vampirism, and Nick Desanto, a 2,000-year-old vampire seeking to regain his humanity. This unexpected event sets an unconventional courtship in motion. Abbey flees to her family farm; Nick, using his preternatural powers to pursue and stalk her, is caught by her father, who raises questions about his intentions. As Nick courts the alluring Abbey in an old-fashioned way, dangerous complications swirl in the background. To keep Abbey safe, Nick whisks her off to Transylvania, where he hopes to acquire a brew that will restore his humanity. The mix of romance and pulse-pounding vampire adventures makes for a fun and thrilling read from beginning to end. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg, Ethan Ellenberg Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Moondance Beach

Susan Donovan. Signet, $7.99 mass market paperback (352p) ISBN 978-0-451-41930-9

Donovan’s third Bayberry Island contemporary (after The Sweetest Summer) continues the mystical mermaid theme from earlier books, but here it’s only a distraction from a powerful tale of opening up to love. When prodigal son Duncan Flynn joined the Navy right out of high school, he left behind Adalena Silva, a childhood playmate who worshiped the ground he walked on. Now a Navy SEAL, Duncan is home only because he was injured in Afghanistan, and he plans to fully recover and return to duty. Lena still loves him, but she doesn’t do anything to put herself in his path. Any other woman would have tried to nudge things along, but Lena’s astonishing faith in love is strong enough to let Duncan’s affection for her unfold on its own schedule. Duncan is uncomfortable with feelings, intangible ideas like destiny and the island’s mermaid legend, and feeling vulnerable, so falling in love is a wrenching experience for him—as hard as going to war. He prefers to stand apart, but his close-knit family draws him in with laughter and joy. Both tender and funny, this warmly genuine romance affirms the power of love. Agent: Irene Goodman, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Nobody’s Fool

Sarah Hegger. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (360p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3741-5

In Hegger’s melodramatic second Willow Park contemporary (after Nobody’s Angel), a young woman juggles complicated family issues with her rekindled desire for a high school crush. Holly Partridge returns to Chicago after years away and goes in search of her sister Portia, who’s fled home while in the depths of a bipolar episode. With no one else to turn to, Holly reluctantly accepts the help of Josh Hunter, who once broke her heart. Holly’s issues and Josh’s reputation as a playboy prove difficult obstacles in their road to mutual happiness. When Holly’s other sisters show up, things tip from complicated into messy, leading to emotional upheavals, tearful revelations, and a chance for the Partridge sisters to deal with long-repressed traumas. Hegger’s characters have real chemistry, especially in the bedroom, and she tackles mental illness with sensitivity and realism. However, the story suffers from clunky prose: “Not so clueless was every red-blooded male in her vicinity. More than one covert eye went her way.” Hegger’s style lacks subtlety or restraint, threatening to overwhelm the reader with an emotional assault on every page. Agent: Nalini Akolekar, Spencerhill Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Slaying Dragons

Sasha L. Miller. Less Than Three
(lessthanthreepress.com), $3.99 e-book (94p) ISBN 978-1-62004-650-0

In this adventurous, romantic sword-and-sorcery novella, Miller (Axbridge) partners warriors with mages to dispatch mystical beasts. Gruff and gritty combatant Devi Bissette is about to be sacked due to her abrasive personality and her difficulty working with the boastful mages she’s been paired with. Given a final chance to prove herself, Devi is paired with affable and sensible novice mage Noeme Lavoie and sent on an uncharacteristically vague assignment. On the journey, Devi finds herself becoming attracted to Noeme, and a lusty kiss in the heat of battle signals a new turn in their relationship. Devi can’t shake a gnawing suspicion that Noeme is not the innocent angel she seems to be, but she knows they must work as a team to destroy a fire-breathing dragon, the same beast that wrecked Devi’s village a decade before. Miller’s sometimes predictable but solid story is populated by strong, capable women who grow into well-developed characters. A fun but too-brief dragon battle suggests that Miller’s traditional fantasy world has much more to offer readers. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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What to Do with a Duke

Sally MacKenzie. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (343p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3712-5

MacKenzie (Naked Nobility) dresses up this fun series launch—half fairy tale, half sitcom—in historical garb without any pretense of detailed authenticity. In 1617, merchant’s daughter Isabella dallies out of wedlock with Marcus, the third Duke of Hart. He does not marry her, and she curses his heirs to premature death unless they marry for love. Successive dukes, apparently strangers to Cupid, die young. Another Marcus, the Regency-era Duke of Hart, fears his inevitable demise until he meets another Isabelle, a vicar’s daughter. Her sole ambition is to get into the Spinster House, an establishment the duchy maintains (complete with bylaws), also in accordance with the improbably detailed curse. With so much celibacy around, it’s inevitable that lust will set in, but will this Marcus and Isabelle get the love part right? Mischievous children and a mysterious feline provide warm, chaotic touches amid the mannered structure. Agent: Jessica Faust, BookEnds. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Too Hard to Handle

Julie Ann Walker. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-4022-9454-9

Walker’s exciting eighth Black Knights Inc. contemporary (after Full Throttle) combines a heart-racing thriller with a gripping romance. Dan “The Man” Currington and his fellow members of Black Knights Inc., a top-secret black ops organization, are in Peru on the trail of Luke Winterfield, a CIA agent turned traitor. Dan and former Secret Service agent Penni DePaul had just started to explore their explosive chemistry during a mission in Malaysia when Luke’s treachery cost many of Penni’s friends their lives. Naturally, Penni insists on joining the hunt. But they’re not the only ones looking for Luke. Can they capture the traitor before their enemies catch him—or them? Walker takes readers on a high-speed adventure through South America, with a volley of twists and turns that readers won’t see coming. Walker’s fast-paced story touches on present-day politics, which adds an extra edge to its intrigue. This winning romance is a nail-biter from start to finish. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymour Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Texas Thunder

Kimberly Raye. St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $7.99 mass market (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-06395-3

Raye, a veteran author of vampire and Nascar romances, opens her new Rebel Moonshine contemporary series with love in the heart of present-day Texas. Elijah Sawyer and Archibald Tucker of tiny Rebel, Tex., were once the best of friends and business partners in their thriving moonshine business. But the men had an argument that resulted in them tearing the moonshine recipe in half. Generations later, their descendants are sworn enemies. After Callie Tucker’s grandfather dies while trying to perfect his version of the recipe, Callie inherits his home, but she only has 30 days to pay the property taxes and avoid foreclosure. She joins forces with her equally broke ex-boyfriend, sexy Brett Sawyer, to hunt for Brett’s half of the original recipe for an investor who is willing to pay $10,000. Their continued search forces them into close proximity, and when the sexual tension culminates in a sizzling encounter, they must decide whether they can look past their families’ fraught history—and their own stormy past—to really connect with each other. Fast paced and smoothly plotted, Raye’s lighthearted series starter deftly evokes a variety of emotions while building multifaceted characters. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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