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A Christmas Kiss

Celeste O. Norfleet, Regina Hart, and Deborah Fletcher Mello. Kensington/Dafina, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4967-0050-6

Three wise men star in this trio of artful novellas. In Norfleet’s delectable “Sealed with a Kiss,” a bad boy turned multimillionaire returns to Hayden, Ga., to reunite with his first love, who sacrificed her own happiness to convince him to leave the town he hated. In Hart’s somewhat tangled “Mistletoe Lane,” a man healing from a failed marriage and his wife’s infidelity falls for his new employee, who’s trying to overcome her own hurtful past. In Mello’s delightful “His Christmas Gifts,” Ethan Christmas falls for Bianca Torres, who’s 25 years his junior; her parents are attempting to fix her up with Ethan’s son, who’s secretly gay and already in a relationship. Parades, hot chocolate, tree trimming, and gift giving help guide these couples to their merry-ever-afters. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Cowboy Firefighter for Christmas

Kim Redford. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-2147-8

An over-the-top cowboy joins perfectly with a strong heroine and small-town living in Redford’s debut, which launches the Smokin’ Hot Cowboys contemporary romance series. Trey Duval is a cowboy who ranches, fights fires, and throws himself headfirst into supporting his hometown, Wildcat Bluff, Tex. Troubleshooter Misty Reynolds lands in his lap like a Christmas present from heaven. He and the whole town start calling her their Christmas angel after she arrives just in time to help Trey stop a potentially deadly fire. Fire is Misty’s nemesis, and she hates Christmas almost as much. But she’s certain she can handle both her phobia and her dislike of the holiday season when she accepts an undercover job to discover the cause of mysterious fires in town. The attraction between Trey and Misty is instant, scorching, and flavored with just a hint of sweet innocence. Add in the distilled essence of a perfect small town, and this tale will melt even the iciest heart. Agent: Elaine English, Elaine English PLLC. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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What Happens Under the Mistletoe

Sabrina Jeffries, Karen Hawkins, Candace Camp, and Meredith Duran. Pocket, $7.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8608-7

Kisses under the mistletoe are the theme of four novellas taking place between 1807 and 1885. Camp (Pleasured) delivers the standout story, “By Any Other Name,” a cross-dressing romp about a girl seeking her lost brother in the gaming hells of Edinburgh. Duran (Luck Be a Lady) goes the gently pleasant route with “Sweet Ruin,” about lovers kept apart by a scheming father. Unfortunately, Hawkins (The Prince and I) burdens “Twelve Kisses” with an unconvincing prince, hampering the story further with the hero’s extremely thick Scots dialect. Jeffries (A Hellion in Her Bed) never manages to give the impression that the lovers of “The Heiress and the Hothead” will successfully wrangle a marriage that requires one of them to move to the other’s continent. These stories provide a reasonable helping of holiday-season cheer. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Fortunate Blizzard

L.C. Chase. Riptide (riptidepublishing.com), $16.99 trade paper (175p) ISBN 978-1-62649-340-7

In this heartfelt short novel, two men find unexpected love when a blizzard brings them together. Trevor Morrison is an artist enduring the final stages of kidney disease; without a transplant, his remaining lifespan can be measured in months. When a snowstorm forces him to seek shelter in a hotel, he meets Marcus Roberts, a workaholic lawyer with no time for relationships or relaxation. The two agree to share a room, and a bed. Once the storm blows over, they must return to a reality in which Trevor feels he can’t make any long-term commitments. As Marcus tries to change his new lover’s mind—and his looming fate—it may take a Christmas miracle to bring about a happy ending. Chase (Riding with Heaven) presents a charming, emotionally rich story spiced up by frequent erotic encounters, with a satisfying, natural relationship between the leads. However, the resolution feels rushed. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Shadows of Self

Brandon Sanderson. Tor, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7855-2

Sanderson (The Alloy of Law) brings back crime fighter Waxillium Ladrian for the excellent fifth Mistborn industrial revolution fantasy, which opens a new subseries. Nearly two decades have passed since Wax worked as a lawman for hire in the Roughs, the dusty territory far removed from his home city of Elendel. Now he assists the constabulary of Elendel, and his latest case looks to be a bad one. An unknown assassin has killed several people at an auction, both nobles and criminals—including Winsting Innate, the governor’s brother. The governor himself is the next likely target, but Wax learns from Harmony, his deity, that the assassin is not human at all but a Faceless Immortal. With the assistance of the lovable but dodgy sidekick Wayne and lawyer-turned-constable Marasi Colms, Wax hopes to cobble together enough power and talent to save the day. Sanderson’s fantasy world partakes equally of steampunk, early industry, and the Wild West, and he cleverly incorporates the metal-shaping magic of feruchemists and allomancers. Fantasy fans will savor this exciting escapade. Agent: Joshua Bilmes, JABberwocky Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Silver on the Road

Laura Anne Gilman. S&S/Saga, $26.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4814-2968-9

Gilman (the Vineart War trilogy) takes readers on a scenic tour of a very weird Wild West in this delightful start to the Devil’s West series. In an early 19th-century America where superstition, magic, and unusual beings flourish, a man considered to be the devil has claimed a vast region west of the Mississippi that’s known simply as the Territory. When saloon girl Isobel turns 16, she volunteers to work for the devil and is appointed as his Left Hand, an agent to help keep the Territory under control. Under the guidance of her new mentor, the enigmatic Gabriel, Isobel sets out to learn the ways of the road and discover what her role truly entails. A rash of supernatural events terrorizing the Territory forces Isobel and Gabriel to team with unlikely allies in hopes of preventing further tragedy. Gilman skillfully plays with western folklore and history, infusing them with ambiguity and subtle strangeness to deliver a memorable adventure out on the untamed frontier. Refreshingly, her vision of the American West includes respectful portrayals of Native Americans. Isobel’s coming-of-age story is very accessible to teens, and there’s plenty for adventure-minded adults to enjoy as well. Agent: Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Aeronaut’s Windlass

Jim Butcher. Roc, $27.95 (640p) ISBN 978-0-451-46680-8

Butcher (the Dresden Files series) opens the imaginative Cinder Spires series with this sweeping fantastical epic with pseudo-Victorian sensibilities. In this strange realm, some cataclysm has left the surface world uninhabitable, but the ancient Builders created spires that stretch miles into the sky. Transportation, trade, and warfare are conducted by way of airships. The AMS Predator is captained by Francis Grimm, formerly of the Albion Fleet, and when Grimm’s quick action saves his spire from a devastating attack, he and several members of the Spirearch’s Guard are sent on a secret assignment to prevent disaster. After a slower-paced start that sets up a multitude of story lines and viewpoint characters, each of those threads is woven into a fascinating, adventurous, and intricate story. Butcher brings a fresh and exciting perspective to secondary-world steampunk, giving the reader a thrilling ride. Agent: Jennifer Jackson, Donald Maass Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Cast Me Gently

Caren J. Werlinger. Ylva (Ingram, dist.), $14.99 trade paper (353p) ISBN 978-3-95533-391-1

Werlinger (Turning for Home) sets this graceful and touching portrayal of first love, and its effect on family and friendship, against a backdrop of 1980s Pittsburgh, Pa. Pharmacist Teresa Benedetto works for her large Italian-American family’s chain of drugstores and feels stifled by their expectations. Bank teller Ellie Ryan is also restless, needing more to her life than work and the search for her homeless veteran brother. The attraction between Teresa and Ellie is immediate, but as their relationship grows, so do the choices that each of them must make: do they stay in lives that are familiar, or do they take the next step into independence and interdependence? The difficulty of each woman’s decisions is never underestimated, providing portraits that are complex and realistic, and Werlinger avoids soap opera neatness, instead depicting nuanced and multifaceted relationships and events. While there’s enough detail to place the story firmly in its time and place, the social issues that Werlinger portrays—homelessness, sexism, and Christian attitudes toward queerness—are both timeless and timely. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Doubter’s Almanac

Ethan Canin. Random, $28 (576p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6826-5

The mysteries of higher mathematics and the even deeper mysteries of the human heart are the unlikely themes of Canin’s (America America) novel. With stunning assurance and elegant, resonant prose, Canin follows the life of Milo Andret, who is both blessed and afflicted with mathematical genius. Milo’s aspirations take him from a lonely boyhood in northern Michigan to Berkeley, Princeton, the hinterlands of Ohio, and, finally, to a defeated return to the rural Midwest. Essentially asocial and so unworldly that he didn’t taste alcohol until graduate school, Milo is gradually embittered by his failures at love and his jealous relationships with his colleagues. Meanwhile, he pursues the exquisitely arduous process of constructing complex mathematical theorems in his mind. When, at age 32, Milo proves one of the greatest theorems in the history of mathematics, he becomes a scientific superstar. But by then he is an alcoholic, and he destroys his career in acts of reckless abandon. Fascinating in its character portrayal and psychological insights, the novel becomes even more mesmerizing in its second half, which is narrated by Milo’s son, Hans (the first half features close third-person narration on Milo). Hans also has a brilliant mathematical mind but is scarred by his father’s cantankerous, often vicious behavior and poisonous disillusionment with ambition and higher knowledge. Hans’s exorbitantly lucrative career as a high-frequency futures trader founders when he becomes addicted to drugs, but his redemption comes through marital and familial love. Though the book is occasionally repetitive, Canin’s accomplishments are many, not least of which is his ability to lucidly explain the field of algebraic topology. But it is his superb storytelling that makes this novel a tremendous literary achievement. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Mulberry Bush

Charles McCarry. Grove/Atlantic/Mysterious, $26 (320) ISBN 978-0-8021-2410-4

The unnamed narrator of this exceptional spy novel from McCarry (The Shanghai Factor) vows to avenge his father, a disgraced secret agent. The narrator engineers his own recruitment into “Headquarters” (McCarry’s name for the CIA) and, after training, begins his career as a covert agent, hunting and killing terrorists in the Middle East, though he never forgets his chief purpose in life: exacting retribution on those responsible for his father’s downfall. Amzi Strange, the deputy director for operations and his father’s former enemy at Headquarters, brings the narrator back home, where he decides to implement his plan by infiltrating the remains of a terror organization in Latin America that was led by the charismatic Alejandro Aguilar. The narrator begins an affair with Aguilar’s 29-year-old daughter, Luz, and eventually they marry. McCarry spins his riveting story in unexpected ways; the writing is always subdued but brilliant, leading unsuspecting readers to collide straight into the unforgiving wall of a stunning ending. In a cover blurb, Lee Child says, “Charles McCarry is better than John le Carré.” Many thriller fans will agree. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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