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All I Want

Jill Shalvis. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-0-425-27019-6

If someone had reminded Parker James that no dying man ever said, “I wish I had spent more time at work,” the flimsy central conflict of Shalvis’s otherwise excellent seventh Animal Magnetism contemporary romance (after Still the One) would have vanished within a few chapters. Idaho bush pilot Zoe Stone agrees to play host to her brother’s friend Parker. Parker, a federal agent who investigates wildlife trafficking, claims to be on vacation, but his actual intent is to ferret out a dangerous big game smuggler involved with a right-wing militia. Zoe and Parker’s incendiary attraction and their witty, sexy banter are delightful, as are the marvelous scenes involving Zoe’s dog and a couple of kittens that Parker temporarily adopts. Readers will love Zoe’s fierce independence until late in the book, when her behavior turns stubbornly reckless. That’s really a minor complaint, though, compared to Parker’s single-minded focus on his job when the love of a lifetime is blatantly staring him in the face. Agent: Robin Rue, Writers House. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Playing for Keeps

Deborah Fletcher Mello. Kensington/Dafina, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-61773-778-7

Mello hits all the right notes with her second Sultry Southern Nights contemporary (after Playing with Fire), featuring a smart heroine, a sensual hero, witty repartee, and complex family dynamics. Entrepreneur Malcolm Cobb owns several successful businesses and is raising his teenage twins, Claudia and Cleo. When he meets gorgeous Priscilla Jameson, their playful banter, natural chemistry, and immediate comfort soon has them acting out of character. Malcolm wants Cilla to meet his daughters, a no-no since his painful divorce from a woman who’s still addicted to drugs. Cilla appreciates Malcolm’s gentlemanly charm and honesty and lets him into her usually guarded life. A chance run-in between Cilla and Cleo uncovers a disturbing situation that will challenge all involved, with Malcolm’s ex-wife at the center. As Cilla becomes a welcome addition to Cobb family activities, the couple’s emotional bonds and sensual connection grow in parallel. Diverse secondary characters remind readers that a relationship is rooted in family and community. Mello sensitively explores the difficult issues of child abuse and toxic parents, cushioning the unflinching examination of harsh topics with plenty of sweet kindness and love. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Need You for Always

Marina Adair. Amazon/Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (313p) ISBN 978-1-5039-4825-9

Adair’s charming second Heroes of St. Helena wine country contemporary (following Need You for Keeps) sets up a culinary entrepreneur with an injured Army Ranger sniper. Emerson “Emi” Blake and Dax Baudouin had a sizzling fling at the wedding of her friend to his brother, but distractions keep them from turning one night into more. Emi is juggling career ambitions and family obligations following the death of her mother. Her efforts to grow her Pita Peddler food cart business to a full-fledged food truck and compete in the national Street Eats competition are hampered by her significantly younger sister insisting on maintaining a “pixie” persona to honor their mother, which their father devotedly supports. Dax isn’t interested in staying in St. Helena once he’s recovered from his injury, though Emi might tempt him to change his mind. Aidar’s writing can skirt along the twee, but it’s balanced by her unabashed enthusiasm for her characters and the positive aspects of love—romantic, sororal, and filial—as well as steamy romantic encounters. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Against the Ropes

Jeanette Murray. Berkley Sensation, $7.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-0-425-27927-4

Murray’s fun second First to Fight contemporary (after Below the Belt) continues the romantic escapades of the U.S. Marine Corps boxing team. This time the focus is on public relations specialist and liaison Reagan Robilard, who has to juggle her professional obligations against a growing attraction to Lt. Greg Higgs. Increasingly nasty pranks are being played against the team and their equipment by an unknown antagonist (or antagonists), resulting in bad press that may get the program canceled. It’s up to Reagan to offset the negative publicity, and she thinks Greg’s the perfect poster child. However, he won’t talk about his personal life unless she goes out with him. Their first date leads to a slow-burning, steamy relationship. Murray’s protagonists are a joy to follow, their natural chemistry buoyed by a strong give-and-take dynamic and elements of humor. As with the previous installment, the athletic and military aspects of the story play a distant second fiddle to the romantic and interpersonal interactions of the cast, but the entertainment value makes up for that imbalance. Agent: Emmanuelle Morgen, Stonesong Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Taming of Malcolm Grant

Paula Quinn. Grand Central/Forever, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4555-1952-1

Quinn’s winning fourth Highland Heirs historical (after The Scandalous Secret of Abigail MacGregor) depicts unforeseen dangers for a battle-weary Scot in 18th-century England. While visiting a brothel, Highland brothers Malcolm and Cailean Grant rescue a woman from abusive Andrew Winther. When the Winthers retaliate, Harry Grey, the owner of the brothel, asks his sister, Emma, to use her nursing skills to help heal the Grant brothers. Emma is a quietly confident and fearless woman; though she’s blind, she’s able to use her herbal remedies and keen sense of touch to nurse the brothers back to health. She becomes especially enamored of Malcolm, who is well-known for leaving a string of broken hearts in his wake. Malcolm greatly enjoys his time with Emma, but he’s reluctant to believe himself capable of romantic feelings. As danger threatens to derail his newfound happiness with Emma, Malcolm must decide which risks he is willing to take for love. The gradual development of romance between the hard-hearted fighter and the resilient healer illuminates the fast-paced story. Agent: Andrea Somberg, Harvey Klinger. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Madame X

Jasinda Wilder. Berkley, $15 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-101-98688-2

Wilder (Alpha) pulls out all the stops for this spellbinding novel of identity, passion, and fear. Madame X, the star employee of Indigo Services LLC, never leaves her Manhattan condo; clients come to her. Her job is to imbue young, entitled scions with the refinement and style they will one day need in order to command the reins of their fathers’ international businesses. Multibillionaire Caleb Indigo has kept X as a slave for the six years since he found her bleeding from near-fatal injuries that also destroyed her memories. Though Caleb promises to keep her safe from her would-be killer, his dominance of X frequently crosses the line into assault. She bravely identifies Caleb’s abuse and her own Stockholm syndrome, hungering for “a breath taken in privacy, a word spoken without ulterior motive,” but when charming entrepreneur Logan Ryder offers her a chance at a normal life, she has no idea how—or whether—to accept. The intense, violent, erotic story is told in the first-person voice of X herself, with impressively well-handled second-person passages directed at her often odious clients (“You quiver. You want to bluff, you want to bluster”). This narrative device smoothly guides the reader between X’s internal monologue and her professional facade, never feeling contrived. Once readers fall into X’s story, they’ll be desperate for the next installments. Agent: Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Dead Won’t Die

Joe McKinney. Pinnacle, $6.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-0-7860-3399-7

In the predictable second title Deadlands postapocalyptic novel (following The Plague of the Undead), series protagonist Jacob Carlton continues battling for his life against the so-called Great Texas Herd of zombies. Survival is a relentless struggle. He and his two remaining friends, Kelly Banis and Chelsea Walker, are completely surrounded by the mindless undead. At the last minute, they are saved by a survey ship from Temple, a technologically advanced society with familiar politics. The trio, who thought they had useful data to trade, are instead hounded by a group of self-serving politicos intent on seeing that information buried. McKinney’s story is bogged down by wooden characters, seat-of-the-pants plotting, and convenient escapes from improbable situations. On the good side, there’s loads of gory action; on the bad side, there’s every other part of the book. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Witness

K.J. Parker. Tor.com, $12.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-4668-9348-1

Parker (Savages) delivers a tight, intriguing tale that plays with notions of truth and memory. The narrator (nameless, like every other character in the story) has the power to remove people’s memories, in the process gaining them himself. It’s a skill that gets him into trouble and makes him occasionally wealthy, though his gambling habit soon takes care of the latter. Thanks to his power and the eidetic memory he also possesses, he’s doomed to live with the memories of having committed several awful crimes, and having been the victim of others. He also finds that his memory blurs, and events that happened to others seem as real as ones in his own past. It’s an intriguing premise, and readers will enjoy seeing how it plays out. Religious and political machinations that snag the unwary narrator deepen this quick and interesting story. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Best of Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress. Subterranean (subterraneanpress.com), $45 (560p) ISBN 978-1-59606-721-9

The much-lauded talents of SF and fantasy writer Kress (Yesterday’s Kin) are finely showcased in this sparkling and thoughtful collection of 21 short stories. Kress, a self-professed “science groupie,” takes standard SF ideas in unique directions. In “And Wild for to Hold,” for example, a time travel experiment spirals out of control when scientists from the future grab a determined Anne Boleyn. Religious belief drives the spiritual crisis of the far-future “My Mother, Dancing” and questions a creator’s motives in “Unto the Daughters.” Obsession sharpens the conflicts of “End Game,” “Someone to Watch over Me,” and the odd romantic triangle that arises during a research mission to the center of the galaxy in “Shiva in Shadow.” “The Flowers of Aulit Prison” and “The Kindness of Strangers” highlight provocative alien perspectives. Kress’s strongest work focuses on the razor-sharp edges of science ethics and family dynamics, as in “Pathways,” “Dancing on Air,” “Margin of Error,” and the phenomenal “Beggars in Spain,” still powerful and visionary nearly 25 years after its original publication. Kress has a gift for focusing on the familiar and the personal, even in the most alien settings. This collection will fire the imaginations of new readers and longtime fans alike. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Of Sorrow and Such

Angela Slatter. Tor.com, $12.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-7653-8526-0

In a land much like medieval Europe, at a time when witches are burned for their talents, Patience Gideon lives the life of a humble herbalist in the town of Edda’s Meadow, keeping the extent of her powers to herself. When her quiet life is disturbed by Flora, a fellow witch who has been attacked, Patience risks her life and her sanctuary to save her. Unfortunately, Flora is small-minded and vain, and her foolishness leads to Patience’s capture and the end of her peaceful time in Edda’s Meadow—and nearly costs Patience her life. This short novel bridges the events of two other stories, “Gallowberries” and “Sister, Sister” (neither included in this volume), and feels more like part of an ongoing series than a stand-alone tale, perhaps because it hints so well at adventures past and more yet to come. But it’s a quick, fun read: enthralling, clever, and deliciously complex. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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