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Women of Futures Past: Classic Stories

Edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Baen, $16 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8161-7

Veteran editor Rusch assembles a wholly engaging and varied anthology of speculative tales covering the depth of the genre and spanning its history. Rusch’s enthusiasm for speculative fiction and deep knowledge of the genre’s history shines through the opening essay and the introduction paired with each story. But the tales themselves are the true stars: smart, beautiful, gracefully aged, and still challenging, each builds on the others in the collection. Particular standouts are Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Aftermaths,” which follows a small crew sent to retrieve bodies after a battle and delicately tracks a young officer’s growing respect for the job; Leigh Brackett’s “The Last Days of Shandakor,” a rich recovery from the pulp era, in which an Earth anthropologist witnesses the final end of an ancient Martian race and comes to respect the alien only too late; and Pat Cadigan’s “Angel,” the edgy and sensitive story of a friendship between an outcast human and an angel cast out from its world and banished to Earth. This anthology is modern and fresh enough to be valued by readers with contemporary tastes, and wealthy in the charm and tropes that draw fans of the classics. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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What the Duke Doesn’t Know

Jane Ashford. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-2159-1

Ashford’s delightful second venture into the social lives of the six sons of the Duke of Langford (after Heir to the Duke) pokes gentle fun at British society stuffiness in a story that pits propriety against authenticity, passion, and personality. Lord James Gresham, at loose ends after the Royal Navy ship on which he served is decommissioned, is surprised by the pistol-wielding, revenge-seeking Kawena Benson, the half–Pacific Islander daughter of an English trader seeking to avenge her father’s death. After James convinces her of his innocence, she asks him to help with her search for the robber whose theft of her father’s jewels led to his fatal heart attack, and a comedy of awkwardness, misunderstandings, and manners ensues. James realizes his joking request to his sister-in-law to find him a proper bride is at odds with his appreciation of Kawena’s outsider perspective and her island-learned freedom to ask for what she wants. The story resonates with the humor of English seafaring comedy such as The Pirates of Penzance while calling out narrow-minded exoticism in a fashion that has modern appeal. Agent: Jennifer Weltz, Jean V. Naggar Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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This Road We Traveled

Jane Kirkpatrick. Revell, $14.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-8007-2233-3

Kirkpatrick (The Memory Weaver) takes readers back to the 1840s and the westward expansion of the United States. Tabby Brown, the matriarch of the Brown-Pringle clan, is excited when her son Orus returns with news that the family will be making the trip out west to Oregon. This announcement is immediately followed by the pronouncement that the journey will be too much for the aging and infirm Tabby. Defiantly, Tabby makes arrangements and attaches her own wagon to the family caravan. She is provided multiple opportunities to stay behind, especially as she finds that not all of her family is leaving, but she always chooses to continue on. Kirkpatrick does a fine job developing the many family members as they make their way to the Pacific, and the deliberate, halting pace of the story accurately recapitulates the same attributes of the arduous trek across the western frontier. Tabby is a formidable, intrepid force, certain that God still has a purpose for her despite her age and disability. This is more than one woman’s story of courage and faith; it is the story of a family that journeys, grows, and heals together. Kirkpatrick’s vivid, rich prose will keep readers in awe and on the edges of their seats. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Twilight at Blueberry Barrens

Colleen Coble. Thomas Nelson, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-4016-9030-4

Love and murder pair up effectively in the second Sunset Cove page-turner (following Mermaid Moon). Kate Mason’s blueberry barrens have withered, so offering the cottage on her coastal Maine property to the intriguing Drake Newham and his two nieces offers an attractive alternative source of income for the summer. Playing nanny to the girls helps distract Kate from the trauma of having come across the bodies of Drake’s brother and sister-in-law, the girls’ parents, after an apparent murder-suicide. But Drake’s investigation into those suspicious deaths, along with the puzzling break-ins on her property—is it her escaped convict uncle or an unknown stalker?—keep Kate, and the reader, on edge. The mutual attraction between Kate and Drake is frustrated time and again by the dangers that keep cropping up. The tension, both suspenseful and romantic, is gripping, reflecting Coble’s prowess with the genre. Adding depth and contour to the drama are subtler subplots, most notably Kate’s long struggle with self-worth, complicated by her recent health issues. Her sister, Claire, proves instrumental to Kate’s emotional and spiritual healing. Fans of the series will love seeing Claire and her fiancé, Luke, play strong supporting roles in this installment. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dirty Sexy Saint

Carly Phillips and Erika Wilde. CP Publishing, $3.99 e-book (268p) ASIN B016YIRT9Q

New York Times bestselling authors Phillips (Dare to Take) and Wilde (Playing with Seduction) pack plenty of sizzle into the first in their contemporary Dirty Sexy series. Socialite Samantha Jamieson refuses to marry a man she doesn’t love—and in reaction her incensed father cuts her off from his financial support and the only home she’s ever known. Samantha ends up in Clay “Saint” Kincaid’s bar. Clay’s gotten his nickname from his habit of rescuing those who need it, and boy does Samantha need it. After one too many shots, Clay takes Samantha home to ensure her safety—but it’s his heart that is in danger. When someone from Clay’s rough past reappears, things abruptly change. Can Clay and Samantha hold on to their love, or will they lose it forever? The bad man/good woman trope is used endlessly in romance, but Phillips and Wilde manage to make it fresh, hot, and endlessly appealing. The erotic scenes live up to the “dirty” in the title and the heroine is sympathetic and real. Readers will be salivating for the next book in the series. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Winner Takes All

Erin Kern. Forever, $6.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4555-3598-9

In this somber first entry in Kern’s Champion Valley contemporary series, two unlikable people awkwardly connect. Superstar quarterback Blake Carpenter pretended ignorance of the performance-enhancing drugs injected by his trainers, and now his legacy is tarnished. In an effort to put the past away, he returns to his Colorado hometown to coach his high school football team. Determined to take them to the play-offs, he resents physical therapist Annabelle Turner getting between him and the players. Blake and Annabelle certainly lust after each other, but they don’t seem to like each other very much, with Blake being downright vulgar at times, in one instance accusing Annabelle of “rubbing [her]self all over [him] like a cat in heat.” Sometimes tension and arguments are the precursor to passion, but they don’t spend enough time talking, so they never click. Strangely, Kern keeps most of the action inside their heads as both consider the consequences of getting to know each other better. Agent: Kristyn Keene, ICM Partners. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The One Real Thing

Samantha Young. Berkley, $15 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-101-99167-1

Unfinished business, a past crime, and the need for personal redemption all lead to Hartwell, Del., the fictitious city that provides the setting for Young’s (Moonlight on Nightingale Way) new contemporary series, Hart’s Boardwalk. When prison doctor Jessica Huntington attempts to deliver 30-year-old letters to their intended recipient, she runs into bar owner Cooper Lawson. Cooper and the other residents of Hartwell are being pressured by Ian Devlin, Cooper’s former best friend’s father, to sell their businesses. Cooper’s strong attraction to Jessica makes him believe that he can finally have the family he’s always wanted. When Ian learns a damaging secret about Jessica, he tries to use the info to blackmail her into convincing Cooper to sell. She has to decide whether to walk away and leave Cooper with good memories of her, or tell him the truth and risk his feelings for her changing irrevocably. The intricately woven subplots make up for Jessica’s frustratingly secretive nature and will make a smooth transition to the next in the series. Agent: Lauren Abramo, Dystel & Goderich Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Roadside Assistance

Marie Harte. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-3029-6

Harte continues her Seattle-based Body Shop Bad Boys series (after Test Drive) with a couple who look intimidating on the outside but have awkwardness, vulnerability, and a great love for their families within. Statuesque redhead Cynthia Nichols, a coffee-shop owner, turns down the initial advances of huge, muscular, tattooed Foley Sanders from Webster’s Garage because she’s taking a break from men—but she gives in to pursuing a friendship that slides into sexual flirtation. Harte has a good feel for playful, outrageous banter as the Webster’s Garage mechanics talk trash to one another and both Cyn and Foley get teased heavily by friends and family for the affection that’s obvious under their pretense of casualness. However, Cyn’s anxiety about her attractiveness compared to the thin models Foley usually dates and Cyn’s mother’s harangues about her daughter’s weight take up too much space in the narrative, in a heavy-handed attempt to include a body-acceptance message. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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She’s Got a Way

Maggie McGinnis. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-06909-2

In this charming contemporary, third in the Echo Lake series (following Heart Like Mine), Gabriela O’Brien, the idealistic house mother to a quartet of troublesome prep-school girls, finds unexpected love and fulfillment after she and her charges are temporarily exiled to a rundown camp for a month. Meant as a last-ditch punishment for the girls, it’s no picnic for Gabi either, and she sees her chances of making a difference at the elite Briarwood Academy slipping away. But Camp Echo’s hunky handyman, Luke Magellan, has a knack for helping people: soon he’s showing Gabi’s students how to work together and survive in the outdoors, while teaching Gabi the ways of love. With a wry, self-aware sense of the rules of romantic comedy, this romance hits all the usual notes. McGinnis crafts a sweet, emotionally layered tale about dropping barriers to let one’s true nature shine, and the result is an entertaining, if predictable, happily ever after. Agent: Courtney Miller-Callihan, Handspun Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Last Kiss of Summer

Marina Adair. Forever, $5.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6227-5

In this charming contemporary, first in Adair’s Destiny Bay series, a woman looking for a fresh start finds new purpose when she buys a small-town pie shop and the apple orchard that supplies it. Kennedy Sinclair is confident that she can make a go of Sweetie Pies and put her cheating ex far behind her. However, local hard-cider brewer Luke Callahan also needs those apples to propel his business to the next level. With two dreams at stake, the clash of wills between Kennedy and Luke proves legendary, but their mutual attraction is even stronger, turning the fierce, if friendly, rivalry into a tentative courtship. Adair (Chasing I Do) has the perfect recipe for a tasty, if unchallenging, romance: a dash of sweetness, a pinch of spice in the bedroom, and a heap of comedic playfulness spread among the comfortably eccentric cast. Readers will root for both protagonists as they pursue their seemingly incompatible goals, even as they wonder why Kennedy and Luke don’t just sit down and talk. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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