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The Cottage on Pumpkin and Vine

Kate Angell, Jennifer Dawson, and Sharla Lovelace. Kensington, $15 trade paper (320) ISBN 978-1-4967-0688-1

In the Halloween-loving town of Moonbright, Maine, there’s a small bed-and-breakfast where loves, old and new, are found. This seasonally themed anthology features three contemporary tales of romance that take place at the Rose Cottage B and B. Angell’s (No Breaking My Heart) “Charmed by You” finds party planner Grace, the goddaughter of Rose Cottage owner Amelia Rose, discovering joy in the arms of Cade, a man she’s seen around the small town for years, yet whom she has never really taken the time to know, until they work together for Rose Cottage’s Halloween party. In “Mesmerized by You,” Dawson (Debauched) strands librarian Chloe in the B and B with her best friend, Jack, an ER doctor, allowing the pair to explore what happens when friendship unexpectedly turns into something more. Finally, Lovelace (The Sweetest Chase) absolutely charms with her examination of love rediscovered in “Enchanted by You.” Sidney and Sawyer, both far away from their South Carolina roots, find each other unexpectedly after 12 years apart. This wonderful, well-written collection calls to mind brisk autumn nights cuddled with a loved one. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hard to Hold

Katie Rose. Loveswept, $3.99 e-book (225p) ISBN 978-1-101-96877-2

Rose’s first installment in her contemporary Hard to Play series features a romance between a sexy professional soccer player and a beautiful nanny in Cherry Hill, N.J. Isabella Bennett is stunned when the nanny agency she works for places her at the home of gorgeous soccer player and single dad Logan Hart. Isabella is determined to keep her professional demeanor despite her intense attraction to Logan. As she starts to care for his baby daughter, Isabella becomes convinced that there is more to Logan than his appearance or his athletic celebrity. As Logan and Isabella spend more time in each other’s company, the mutual attraction between them sizzles, and they have to decide whether or not to act on that attraction, mindful of the complications it could bring. Fast-paced and scintillating with plenty of romantic angst, this novel is an ideal read for anyone who likes their romance on the steamy side. Agent: Gail Fortune, Talbot Fortune. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Home: Interstellar

Ray Strong. Impulse Fiction, $2.99 e-book (330p) ASIN B012CS64U2

The reader will struggle through the exposition-filled first half of Strong’s uneven debut, but the action eventually picks up. In 2177, humankind has outgrown Earth and colonized a nearby galaxy. Meriel was 12 when her home, the merchant ship Princess, was attacked by pirates. Only she and the other children aboard the ship escaped. Ten years later, Meriel is on antipsychotics and said to become unstable if she goes off them, the children are in hiding, and the government claims the Princess was smuggling drugs. Meriel promised her dead mother she’d reunite the children so they could be a family again, but in order to do that, she has to prove the Princess wasn’t breaking the law. All she has to go on is a sim-chip with unreadable information and her mother’s nursery rhyme about Home, the only Earth-like planet ever found, which would be valuable property in the ongoing Immigration Wars. As powerful forces squelch Meriel’s attempts to discover the truth of what happened to the Princess, she begins uncovering an intricate conspiracy, but others scorn her as mentally ill and delusional. Corrupt government officials in the United Nations of Earth and evil corporations make predictable villains. The capable protagonist thrives despite one-dimensional supporting characters and confusing points of view, and the complex mystery is resolved with satisfying closure in a self-contained adventure. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Rusted Heroes

Andrew Post. Medallion, $9.99 e-book (379p) ISBN 978-1-60542-654-9

In this genre mash-up set in a fantasy world where trolls, elves, and magic are common, Post (Sired by Stone) makes lots of promises but provides little payoff. Anoushka Demaine, retired against her will from being captain of a tank crew, seeks a way back to the only life that makes sense to her. She makes a confusing acquaintance in Ruprecht LeFevre, who offers her a chance to get the team back together and restore her life and tank to their former glory. LeFevre’s ability to do so is not adequately explored. Various ideas are presented and abandoned throughout the text. The writing never excites interest in the world or its characters. This adventure strives to blend high fantasy and steampunk, but never finds its footing. The characters are doomed to halfhearted bravado, empty passion, and meaningless suffering. All of this could be forgiven for a thrilling wartime tale, but the action sequences are tedious and predictable. The ending, though intended to be a glorious revolution, is merely a mercy killing of an idea that is better in concept than execution. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Jersey Devil

Hunter Shea. Pinnacle, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-7860-3887-9

Shea (The Montauk Monster) delivers a tense and intriguing work of escalating tension splattered with a clever, extensive cast of bystanders turned victims. Deep in the New Jersey Pine Barrens lurks a monster out of legend. It’s been mostly dormant for decades, but something has roused it from its normal pattern of malicious pranks into a frenzy of escalating, gory murder. When news of the Jersey Devil’s reemergence reaches the Willet family, they know what to do. Three generations of Willets and their TV-famous cryoptozoologist buddy trek into the barrens to resolve the family’s mysterious link to the legendary monster and put an end to its rampage. An otherwise excellent, tightly delivered plot stumbles when the major reveal reinforces an uncomfortably sexist focus, potentially spoiling an otherwise wicked ride. Shea fans will appreciate the call-outs to his other work, and fans of cryptid creatures are likely to revel in this love letter to a legendary menace. Agent: Louise Fury, Bent Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Warren

Brian Evenson. Tor.com, $2.99 e-book (74p) ISBN 978-0-7653-9314-2

Evenson’s almost surreal novella puts identity front and center in a dead world, seeking to define what is human as the main character grapples with having multiple and sometimes overlapping personalities. He assumes his name starts with X, is certain that he is human, and knows that he is a person—despite questions about what a “person” is from the monitor, the machine that holds knowledge inside the underground warren that serves as X’s shelter from the unnamed, poisonous world above. Having no more bio-material to fashion others like himself, X sets in motion a chain of events that will throw into chaos everything he thought he knew of the world and himself, and perhaps end the last humans—by any definition—forever. The fanged philosophy stays sharp as Evenson makes numerous intriguing points, but it goes in circles more often than not. At the core of the story is the gripping idea of life’s slow potential extinction. The story doesn’t seem to go anywhere, but hopefully that’s the point. Otherwise, the story feels incredibly unfinished. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Once Broken Faith

Seanan McGuire. DAW, $7.99 mass market (432p) ISBN 978-0-7564-0810-7

In the 10th installment of the October Daye series (after 2015’s A Red-Rose Chain), changeling detective October “Toby” Daye is caught up in a murder mystery involving the most powerful fae in North America. A cure for elf-shot, a poison that puts its victims to sleep for a century, has been discovered, and the high king of the fae has ordered a conclave to discuss its use. When a popular but controversial fae king is assassinated, it’s the start of a tense, bloody affair. As other conclave attendees are struck down with elf-shot, Toby and her allies piece together the clues to discover who’d want to disrupt the event. McGuire continues her intricate blend of worldbuilding and mythology, using myth and lore as the underpinnings for what’s essentially an ambitious, politically charged locked room thriller. The emotional core of the series is stronger than ever, with the action being immediate and visceral. McGuire quite satisfyingly continues the ongoing story while telling an intense and entertaining tale in its own right. Agent: Diana Fox, Fox Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Gods of Nabban

K.V. Johansen. Pyr, $17 trade paper (576p) ISBN 978-1-63388-203-4

With this superlative follow-up to her Marakand series, set in a intriguing fantasy world, Johansen (The Lady) continues the story of erstwhile assassin and king Ahjvar and his traveling companion, the former slave Ghu, in rich, nuanced, and often poetic prose. Dying gods are calling to Ghu from his distant native land of Nabban, so he and Ahjvar brave the deprivation and dangers of the wilds to travel east from the kingdom of Praitan. War grips Nabban as a princess declares herself empress and daughter of the old great gods, while a prince revolts in the north and a group of queens called the Wild Girls lead their own army in the southern jungles. As Ghu and Ahjvar near Nabban, they are joined by Yeh-Lin Dotemon, an ageless devil-bonded wizard and former empress of Nabban, who comes to make amends for her past by pledging her service to the duo. Dreams and portents flow through these pages and unseen powers play their own games. While Ahjvar and Ghu stand at the foreground of the canvas, Johansen fills the scene with a myriad of finely drawn characters and breathtaking landscapes. Johansen’s latest is not to be missed. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Cold-Forged Flame

Marie Brennan. Tor.com, $2.99 e-book (88p) ISBN 978-0-7653-9138-4

Brennan (In the Labyrinth of Drakes) explores the power of memory, self-realization, and destiny in this mix of survival story and self-discovery tale. A woman with no memory of who she is or where she came from appears in a strange land, summoned by a tribal priest called a Cruais, to fulfill a grueling task: traverse an ever-changing and seemingly sentient island landscape to bring back a small vial of blood from the Lhian’s cauldron. She has no idea who the Lhian is or why the Cruais and his tribe needs the blood, but she is bound to complete the task. However, if she succeeds, they promise to free her so that she can never be summoned again. When she meets a man, Aadet, who also seeks the Lhian, they form an uneasy alliance. The journey is treacherous, but luckily the heroine is fierce of mind, strong of will, and quite the warrior. Brennan delights readers with this exciting, fast-paced start to a fantasy novella series. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Queen of Blood

Sarah Beth Durst. Voyager, $19.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-241334-5

Mythopoeic Award–winner Durst (Chasing Power) launches her Queens of Renthia series with a stellar and imaginative tale. In the fantasy world of Renthia, spirits—tangible magical beings associated with the four elements—would destroy all humans if it weren’t for the queen, a powerful chosen ruler who can control them. When a group of spirits destroys an outlying village, young Daleina chases them off and discovers that she has the power to potentially be a queen one day. After training for years at the academy, she comes under the tutelage of Ven, a disgraced champion (and former lover) of the current queen, Fara, and they work to make Daleina stronger as it becomes more apparent that Fara might be losing control of the spirits. Durst ably dispenses with tropes of the genre, zooming through the standard “young magician at the academy” plot to focus on Daleina’s growth as both a person and a potential queen. In addition to a solid cast of characters and great political intrigue, Durst delivers some fascinating worldbuilding, and the spirits are malevolent, cunning, wild, and mysterious antagonists. Agent: Andrea Somberg, Harvey Klinger. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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