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The Causal Angel

Hannu Rajaniemi. Tor, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7653-2951-6

Rajaniemi's largely satisfying third and final tale of posthuman gentleman thief Jean le Flambeur (after The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince) occasionally gets a bit muddled as the plot hits its crescendo. After Jean's rescuer and employer, Mieli, is cast into space, Jean concocts a plan to rescue her with the assistance of former nemesis Matjek, now reincarnated as a child. Meanwhile, Mieli is drawn into the conflict between the Zoku and the Sobornost via the Great Game, and Joséphine, who instigated the events that launched the series, continues her machinations. Rajaniemi's distant future is filled with duplicated bodies and quantum prisons, and at times the relentless terminology ("Founder gogol," "Wang bullet," "qupt") begs for exposition, but context generally prevails for the patient reader, especially one who's read the earlier books. One weakness is the early death of a character who'd seemed destined for more, a symptom of loose ends being too aggressively tied up. But Rajaniemi still offers a thrilling final ride, and fans will walk away satisfied. (July)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Guardian

Jo Anderton. FableCroft, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-9922844-4-2

The third Veiled World novel (following 2012's Suited) is a satisfying conclusion to the series, with some well-paced action enhanced by meticulous worldbuilding. Anderton continues building out her fascinating series, one in which the particles called "debris" can be magically controlled, and in which people themselves are often manipulated by forces they're unaware of. Following the devastation of the city of Movoc-under-Keeper, former architect Tanyana, now a debris collector, knows she has to fight the otherworldly beings she calls "puppet men" to save her world. She and fellow debris collector Kichlan also become aware of another world whose very existence threatens what remains of theirs. Anderton does lapse at times—there's a "surprising" character return that feels flatly expected—and a valiant attempt at an introductory exposition will do little to ease the way for new readers, though it serves well as a recap for returning ones. Fans of the first two books will enjoy following the series to its conclusion. (July)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Sweet Spot

Stephanie Evanovich. Morrow, $26.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-223481-0

It's easy to fall in love with this flirty, swoon-worthy tale of the vivacious couple readers first met in 2013's Big Girl Panties. One witty exchange is all it takes to have pro baseball player Chase Walker head over heels for super-hot restaurant owner Amanda Cole. Amanda fights her attraction to Chase until she runs out of excuses, but she still wonders whether he has a hidden flaw. After a lively jousting session turns to verbal foreplay and then to a madly erotic spanking lovemaking all-nighter, the two swoon through a series of heartfelt discussions and tantalizing erotic escapades. Then a video of their private romps goes viral, and the ensuing scandal could tear them apart. Evanovich entertains with plentiful humor and appeals to the reader's romantic side. Comedy, passion, and an irresistible couple make for a home run read. (July)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Born of Fury

Sherrilyn Kenyon. St. Martin's, $27.99 (688p) ISBN 978-1-250-04296-5

Distilling the essence of romance down into one book is an almost impossible feat, yet Kenyon manages it in the captivating sixth entry of her "Born of…" series. Sumi Antaxas, a human woman, is a very reluctant assassin compelled into service by threats to her daughter. Her latest assignment is to gather intelligence on Dancer Hauk, of the Andarion Warring Blood Clan of Hauk. When she's trapped on a distant planet with Dancer, she finds herself torn between the daughter she's never seen and the tender, powerful warrior who will do anything for those he loves. Combining the best elements of science fiction, fantasy, and romance, the story focuses heavily on the definition of "family" and what it means to belong. Exquisiteworld building and vivid details complement the action-filled sequences just as well as the intimate, sensual moments. Agent: Robert Gottlieb, Trident Media Group. (July)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Blindsided

Karis Walsh. Bold Strokes, $16.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-62639-078-2

A jaded television reporter and a guide dog trainer form an unlikely bond in Walsh's delightful contemporary romance. Cara Bradley is haunted by the fear that she's nothing but a pretty face. Then she meets a woman for whom looks are irrelevant. Lenae McIntyre has had her fill of show business, but her new guide dog training center needs the publicity Cara's TV show can provide. Their slow-burn romance is a nuanced exploration of trust, desire, and negotiating boundaries, without a hint of schmaltz or pity. The sex scenes are sizzling hot, but it's the slow burn that really allows Walsh to shine. The only hiccup is the novel's big dramatic revelation: when the reason for the ending of Lenae's previous relationship becomes clear, it's anticlimactic. Despite the clunky pun of a title, the deft dialogue and well-written characters make this a winner. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Game of Fear

Robin Perini. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (370p) ISBN 978-1-61109-891-4

Perini (Behind the Lies) follows daring helicopter pilot Deborah Lansing and undercover deputy Gabe Montgomery as they search for Deb's little sister, Ashley, a tech super-genius, who may have been kidnapped by the designers of a hacker training program. Deb and Gabe barely know each other, but the two oscillate dizzyingly between being sick with worry over the missing teen and unable to keep their minds off of each other in a surge of irrational and unrealistic romance. The programming aspects are interesting, but lack the specificity and detail needed to be realistic, and the dialogue is often melodramatic or extremely expository, leaving the whole story feeling flat and unconvincing. Romance fans who don't need a well-researched setting might find it entertaining, but for readers who like a little realism in their fun, this story will flop. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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When She Was Good: Best Lesbian Erotica

Edited by Ali Liebegott and Tristan Taormino. Cleis Press, $15.95 trade paper (266p) ISBN 978-1-62778-069-8

Liebegott guest-edits a superb installment of Taormino's renowened lesbian erotica series. Some tremendous writing is represented here, from Taormino's brilliant foreword to Peggy Munson's exquisite final story, "The Storm Chasers." Liebegott's autobiographical introduction, "Dumpster Diving," is as arousing as any of the fiction, and Tamai Kobayashi's "Different Girls" is an excellent opening to the anthology proper. There are a few missteps, such as Chandra S. Clark's "The Waiting Is the Hardest Part," an uncomfortably nonconsensual revenge fantasy, but they are more than balanced out by the high-quality works. This is a standout anthology that showcases queer female sexuality at its best. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Ripper Affair

Lilith Saintcrow. Hachette/Orbit, $15 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-316-18372-7

Sorceress Emma Bannon and mentath Archibald Clare face a truly dastardly foe in their intricate third pseudo-Victorian adventure (after The Red Plague Affair). When the Queen herself comes to ask Bannon to investigate a series of murders in the Whitchapel area, the sorceress reluctantly agrees to come out of her self-imposed retirement. With the ever-faithful Clare aiding her, though he's still recovering from a near-fatal explosion, she delves into the bloody heart of the matter. Together and separately, they learn that a renegade Prime sorcerer has raised a spirit that could undermine the fabric of all Britannia. Part history, part steampunk, laced with magic and a healthy dose of Manners, this fantasy may evoke a certain bloody Jack, but Saintcrow takes as many liberties with that story as she does with the rest of her uniquely fascinating setting. The layers of subtext run deep as the heroes say everything but what's truly on their minds, but at times the complicated dance of emotions and restraint feels too leisurely and indirect. Agent: Miriam Kriss, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Wars of the Roses: Stormbird

Conn Iggulden. Putnam, $27.95 (496p) ISBN 978-0-399-16536-8

Iggulden's (The Emperor Series) latest exploration of the past hearkens back to 1443 during a transitional time for England. King Henry VI is nicknamed "The Lamb" because he is known more for his prayers than fortitude, and his advisors fret the French might realize Henry doesn't have the backbone that his father had and could launch an attack. Derihew "Derry" Brewer a close advisor, devises a plan to marry the King to a young, elite French woman to bring about a peace treaty, despite losing land in the process and angering the English, who had fought for it years before. The King's intended, 14-year-old Margaret of Anjou turns out to be a strong woman. As she settles into her new role, a rebellion is led by the outraged English against France's King Charles, dissolving peace between the countries. Henry's throne and the country is thrown into peril with threats from all directions. Iggulden's meticulous research brings history to life, especially with Margaret, showing how a mere child can be transformed into a determined royal. (July)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Season to Taste

Natalie Young. Little Brown, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-316-28248-2

Young's deliciously dark follow-up to We All Ran Into the Sunlight is a a black comedy of murder and cannibalism in the English countryside. Fiftysomething Lizzie Prain has murdered Jacob, her husband of 30 years. A practical person, Lizzie knows how to carry on in disposing of the evidence: she must chop up the body and eat her husband limb by limb. The plan is to devour Jacob, tidy up the house, and move to Scotland where she resolves to live a life "structured around avoiding emotional experience at all costs." As she works, Lizzie writes notes to herself both culinary ("Resist the urge to put in a lot of garlic. Cook as normal") and practical, "(This isn't the time for oughts and shoulds"). When Lizzie encounters the much younger neighbor Tom at the local hardware store, her serene veneer starts to crack, threatening to expose her secret. Visions of Lizzie's marriage seep through her notes and give glimpses of a codependent, draining relationship, saddled with misunderstandings and regrets. If Lizzie's actions are the stuff of gruesome hyperbole, her reflections and feeling certainly aren't. The book presents an affecting account of what moving on from a failed relationship looks like, and the personal grappling it may require. (July)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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