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Ghost Layer

Robin D. Owens. Berkley Sensation, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-0-425-26891-9

The middling second volume of the Ghost Seer series (after Ghost Seer) limps as noticeably as its protagonist, Montana lawman turned Denver PI Zach Slade. He and novice medium Clare Cermak made it through their first case together with their sanity and budding romance intact, but unlike her characters, Owens does not appear ready to move on. Although she avoids an out and out summary of the first book, every bit of character backstory is wearyingly reiterated—the explanation of Zach’s lame leg is proffered twice in the first three paragraphs. Appearing between the rehashes are a reasonably entertaining story about a ghostly prospector, J. Dawson Hidgepath, whose bones appear in ladies’ beds; a truculent not-quite-billionaire who hires Clare to stop these incursions; and an unknown someone who would prefer that Clare exit the picture. The characters remain appealing, but the plot never establishes enough self-contained momentum to make a page-turner. Agent: Deirdre Knight, Knight Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Finding Julia

Desiree Holt. Kensington/Lyrical, $3.99 e-book (170p) ISBN 978-1-61650-639-1

Julia knows exactly what she needs to do to take control of her life, but she continues to engage in the same self-sabotaging, passive, and foolish behavior, unable to make the connection between her own poor choices and the resulting bad outcomes. She says that security for her children is her highest priority, but days before her divorce is to be finalized, she has a spontaneous affair, putting her settlement at risk. Blackmailed by her dying husband, she cuts off all contact with the man she claims to love, keeping critical information from him until he drags it out of her 14 years later. The sex may be hot, graphic, and frequent, but the bits in between will only appeal to readers who like their heroines passive and helpless. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Never Marry a Viscount

Anne Stuart. Amazon/Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (366p) ISBN 978-1-4778-2409-2

Stuart’s third Scandal at the House of Russell historical (after Never Trust a Pirate) returns to mid-19th-century England with a tale of passionate romance between unlikely lovers. Sophie Russell may have been exiled to her Nanny’s cottage on the estate of Renwick, but she’s still determined to unearth the mystery behind her father’s death. Since the Russells lost Renwick upon her father’s demise, Sophie has been spying on the new resident, Viscount Alexander Griffith. After entering the main house at Renwick, Sophie is mistaken for the new head cook. Determined to carry forth the charade, Sophie agrees with Alexander when he asks whether Mrs. Lefton sent her. But Mrs. Lefton is the owner of a brothel, not an employment agency, and soon Sophie is playing a very different role. The sensual dance between Alexander and Sophie is filled with wit, humor, and scintillating sex scenes. Readers will be drawn in to the story by the hint that love is hidden in the depths of Alexander’s jaded heart. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hunting the Spy

Tyler Flynn. Carina, $3.99 e-book (125p) ISBN 978-1-4268-9893-8

An old relationship is rekindled while England is on the brink of war in a historical romp that mostly fails to heat up. Nathan, a gentleman’s secretary, and Peter, a wealthy aristocrat, lack the complex characterization of the protagonists in the preceding volume, Chasing the Rebel. The political intrigue and class struggles of 1792 are handled with aplomb, but it takes some time for the romance to take off—time that isn’t spent making either man particularly interesting. Nathan’s hatred of the upper classes is his only defining characteristic for far too long, and Peter’s backstory is too thin and arrives too late. Minor characters are well drawn but overlooked, and, although the plot moves quickly, the pace feels like an excuse to get to the happy ending. The bare bones of a good novel are present, but Flynn’s failure to flesh it out makes for a tepid, predictable romance. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Frayed

Kim Karr. NAL, $14 trade paper (436p) ISBN 978-0-451-47068-3

The fourth Connections new adult novel (after Mended) is angst-filled and compulsively readable. Nearly six years after Ben Covington and Bell Wilde shared a night of passion, they run into each other at an awards banquet. Ben wants a relationship. Bell reluctantly acknowledges their fierce sexual chemistry, but insists on a no-strings-attached, friends-with-benefits arrangement or nothing at all. Determined to change her mind, Ben begins a concentrated plan of seduction involving erotic role-playing, romantic dinners, and light domination. But it turns out that Bell is hiding a huge secret that will almost certainly derail their budding relationship. Karr’s world is filled with imperfect yet relatable characters, a familiar but well-written story, and hotter-than-hot sex scenes. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Beauty’s Beast

Amanda Ashley. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3562-6

Ashley (Moonlight) delivers a solidly written but somewhat tired retelling of the classic fairy tale. Sentenced to death for a crime committed in self-defense, Kristine Arrington is spared at the last moment by Erik Trevayne, seventh lord of Hawksbridge Castle. Cursed to a slow and excruciatingly painful transformation by his dead wife’s mother, Erik desperately wants take a new wife and beget an heir, fulfilling a vow made to his late father. But he doesn’t expect Kristine to insinuates herself slowly into his lonely life. With brief nods to witches and werewolves, the novel primarily focuses on the relationship between the beast and the beauty, relying on stereotypical tropes and relatively elementary plot development. It’s as predictable as it is repetitive with few, if any, surprises to distinguish it from countless other variations on the theme. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg, Ethen Ellenberg Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Soulminder

Timothy Zahn. Open Road, $14.99 trade paper (283p) ISBN 978-1-4976-4620-9

Zahn, best known for his Star Wars tie-in novels, weaves a near-future narrative about a machine that can trap the souls of patients hovering at death’s door. According to Dr. Sommer, the soul definitely exists, and it can be made to obey the will of science. Implications of this proposition mount up in interlocking stories, which make for an intriguing thought experiment. Each chapter looks at the ramifications of Sommer’s process, with his own opinions weaving in and out of the narrative. His work is used for both good and evil, which gives rise to some great ethical debates. Unfortunately, the contemporary setting is stereotypical (populated by South American dictators and ranting televangelists) and it’s hard to believe that no one else manages to develop rival technology. There are also times when Sommer’s security chief, Everly, is able to save the day too easily. The choice to skip from one moral issue to the next does hurt the narrative flow, but those who enjoy deep philosophical questions will appreciate being left with much to ponder. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Horrorstör

Grady Hendrix. Quirk, $14.95 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-59474-526-3

Retail stores that peddle lifestyle philosophies to customers and employees get a comic drubbing in this diverting horror lampoon. When three employees of the Cleveland Orsk—a “fake IKEA act” of a furniture superstore—pull an overnight shift to find out who has been trashing store stock after hours, they are horrified to discover that the building is haunted by ghosts from a prison that stood there a century before, and that the maniacal warden intends to inflict his “rehabilitative” punishments on the store’s staff. Hendrix gleefully skewers Orsk and its real-life ilk by comparing the “scripted disorientation” of the store’s layout to that of the penitentiary, and the “numbing grind of repetitive labor” that the prisoners perform to the work of store employees. The plotting is minimal, but the book’s packaging as a catalog—complete with illustrations of increasingly sinister-looking furniture with faux Scandinavian names—gives it a charmingly oddball allure. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Wood Sprites

Wen Spencer. Baen, $25 (496p) ISBN 978-1-4767-3671-6

Spencer’s fourth Elfhome novel (after Elfhome) maintains the series’s solid quality. When youthful curiosity with combustibles sends eight-year-old twins Louise and Jillian Mayer to the hospital, the doctors make an intriguing discovery: blood types prove that the girls are not biologically related to their loving parents. The twins’ investigation into their origins leads to the discovery that they have elven heritage, and entangles them in the fraught politics between humans and elves. Amid escalating acts of violence, Louise and Jillian’s search for unknown relatives places them in a pivotal role in a conflict spanning the human and elf worlds. The girls are endearing without being twee and bright but not implausibly brilliant, and Spencer’s prose remains engaging. The mélange of science fiction and fantasy tropes, starships rubbing shoulders with proud elf warriors, is uncommon but tasty. Established fans will enjoy this installment, and those unfamiliar with the series or Spencer may find it an intriguing introduction to her work. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Shifting Shadows

Patricia Briggs. Ace, $26.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-425-26500-0

This rich collection includes all six previously published Mercy Thompson short stories, along with four new ones and two epilogue-like outtakes. There’s a little something for everyone. “The Star of David” offers up monsters and Christmas cheer; “Roses in Winter” is a coming-of-age story starring the youngest-ever werewolf; and in “In Red, with Pearls,” a gay werewolf must determine why a zombie tried to kill his lover. Of particular note for series readers is “Silver,” in which Briggs relates how Bran and Samuel became werewolves, and describes the latter’s sorrowful romance with Ariana. Another standout is “Alpha and Omega,” the dynamic romantic novella that kicked off Charles and Anna’s subseries. These intriguing, suspenseful, and occasionally heartwarming stories will thrill and delight fans of Mercy and her friends. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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