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An Anonymous Girl

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-13373-1

Struggling Manhattan makeup artist Jessica Farris impulsively decides to chase some quick cash by lying her way into an NYU psychiatrist’s study—of ethics and morality, no less—in this slickly twisty psychological thriller from bestsellers Hendricks and Pekkanen (The Wife Between Us). Still shaky after a disturbing #MeToo encounter with a top theatrical producer that dashed her dream of doing stage makeup, the 28-year-old laps up the supportive attention from impossibly chic and self-confident Dr. Lydia Shields, whose second-person narrative alternates with Jessica’s first person. So when the therapist starts to enlist her in increasingly dicey real-life role-playing assignments, including trying to pick up specific targets, such as a stranger in a hotel bar, Jess pushes aside her doubts and goes along—until she hears some information too alarming to ignore about the fate of Dr. Shields’s previous protégé. The page-turner’s second half whizzes along at a furious pace, exploiting the dual perspectives for maximum tension. Though some of the gasp-worthy final twists require substantial character flip-flops, it’s a relatively minor sacrifice for major league suspense. Agent: Victoria Sanders, Victoria Sanders and Assoc. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Wanderer

Sarah Léon, trans from the French by John Cullen. Other Press, $15.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-59051-925-7

Léon’s staggering debut uses musical structure and allusion to explore friendship and secrecy between two gifted young men. Composer Hermin secludes himself for winters at an estate in the Bourbonnais mountains in France. Lenny, a former friend and piano prodigy who disappeared suddenly a decade before, appears at his door. The two slowly and awkwardly get reacquainted, and, from this point, Léon tells the history of their friendship in paragraphs that alternate between the present and 10 years prior. Hermin is a conservatory student in Paris when he meets teenaged Lenny, a foreigner with impressive raw talent but a strained life caring for his seriously ill aunt. Hermin provides lessons and space for Lenny to practice and eventually invites him to move into his apartment. The plot centers on Hermin’s failure even years later to understand Lenny’s peevish reactions to Hermin spending time with other friends and questions surrounding Lenny’s abrupt retirement from performance shortly before arriving. The men’s interactions frequently mirror citations from Schubert’s songs, especially as the reasons for Lenny’s reappearance become clearer. Léon’s innovative blending of events across time and her delicate emotional precision make for a bewitching, immersive experience. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Lost Children Archive

Valeria Luiselli. Knopf, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-525-52061-0

Luiselli’s powerful, eloquent novel begins with a family embarking on a road trip and culminates in an indictment of America’s immigration system. An unnamed husband and wife drive, with their children in the backseat, from New York City to Arizona, he seeking to record remnants of Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apache, she hoping to locate two Mexican girls last seen awaiting deportation at a detention center. The husband recounts for the 10-year-old son and five-year-old daughter stories about a legendary band of Apache children. The wife explains how immigrant children become separated from parents, losing their way and sometimes their lives. Husband, wife, son, and daughter nickname themselves Cochise, Lucky Arrow, Swift Feather, and Memphis, respectively. When Swift Feather and Memphis go off alone, they become lost, then separated, then intermingled with the Apache and immigrant children, both imagined and all too real. As their parents frantically search, Memphis trades Swift Feather’s map, compass, flashlight, binoculars, and Swiss Army knife for a bow and arrow, leaving them with only their father’s stories about the area to guide them. Juxtaposing rich poetic prose with direct storytelling and brutal reality and alternating narratives with photos, documents, poems, maps, and music, Luiselli explores what holds a family and society together and what pulls them apart. Echoing themes from previous works (such as Tell Me How It Ends), Luiselli demonstrates how callousness toward other cultures erodes our own. Her superb novel makes a devastating case for compassion by documenting the tragic shortcomings of the immigration process. 31 photos. 75,000-copy announced first printing. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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On the Edge of Daylight: A Novel of the Titanic

Giselle Beaumont. Trek, $11.99 trade paper (474p) ISBN 978-1-980593-22-5

In this beautifully crafted historical romance about the journey and eventual sinking of the Titanic, debut author Beaumont weaves facts with fiction to create a transcendent tale. The author modestly points out that the novel is not a 100% accurate portrayal of the tragedy, but it’s close enough that readers will feel as if they have experienced the disaster personally. When feisty Seventh Officer Esther Bailey and her commanding officer, Will Murdoch, meet, cutting wit ensues—and the two quickly recognize their sparring as enticing foreplay. Rules prohibit a romance until the ship docks in New York, leaving simmering, suppressed sexual chemistry woven throughout the story. When the Titanic meets its date with destiny, Esther and Will realize that not everyone gets a tomorrow—and that their roles must give them the courage to help others. Vivid descriptions bring the reader onto the doomed ship as characters shrink in terror from the inevitable, pray for rescue, and grieve for the lost. Beaumont heartbreakingly chronicles survivor’s guilt wrapped in a history lesson, and ably portrays the heroism and honor of the men and women of the sea. This expertly characterized and tautly plotted story is an extremely impressive debut. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Home and Heart

Sean Michael. Dreamspinner, $14.99 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-64108-121-4

This short, kinky foursome fantasy is held together not by its underdeveloped backstory and minimal plot, but by scene after scene of gleefully enthusiastic male sexuality unencumbered by macho expectations, with determined goodwill and great chemistry. Sawyer Burroughs, a submissive restarting his life six years after the death of his dominant husband, is welcomed to his new apartment building by merry Derek, commanding Luke, and bratty Benny, who are thrilled to be able to draw Sawyer into their friends-with-nearly-constant-benefits dynamic. Michael (The Gentle Dom) writes detailed, heat-filled sex scenes that have a hungry urgency but are also playful and sweet. Under Luke’s guidance, Derek develops into the dominant Sawyer needs, providing some arc to the story, though the absence of flashbacks into Sawyer’s erotic history is a missed opportunity. Fans of gay erotica who crave power play without humiliation, high emotional connection with low angst, and a determined disregard for real-world concerns will find satisfying sexy escapism here. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Girl with the Sweetest Secret

Betina Krahn. Zebra, $7.99 mass market (377p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4349-2

In Krahn’s busy but evenly paced second Sin & Sensibility Regency (after A Good Day to Marry a Duke), Reynard Boulton, current gossipmonger and future viscount of Tennehill, has his hands full with the headstrong, beautiful American heiress Frances “Frankie” Bumgarten, whose family he’s vowed to protect. Reynard doesn’t usually keep other people’s secrets—he’s focused on protecting his own—but Frankie earns his silence the moment he meets her. Frankie’s mother demands that all three of her girls marry titled gentlemen to secure the family’s place in high society, so when Frankie’s sister Claire runs off with a musician, Frankie enlists Reynard’s help in retrieving her before anyone finds out. Frankie has vowed to never get married—especially not to the sneaky, blackmailing duke who’s threatening to ruin her family if she doesn’t give in to him—but Reynard might change her mind. Reynard and Frankie are a perfect match in wit and strength. Tame love scenes highlight their deep desire. There’s a lot of romance in this romp, and Claire and Julian’s story could easily get its own novel; at times it threatens to overwhelm Reynard and Frankie’s story. Readers will enjoy watching all three of the book’s couples race to the finish line. Agent: Gail Fortune, Talbot Fortune. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Nightchaser

Amanda Bouchet. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-4926-6713-1

Bouchet (the Kingmaker Chronicles series) artfully weaves romance through this delightful space opera comedy-drama. Tess Bailey is running from her past, her family, and the galactic Overseer’s Dark Watch army. Okay, she stole an entire laboratory, but she did so to help those in need. When she and her crew are stranded, Tess must do everything she can to protect the people she loves. If only Shade Ganavan, the rakishly handsome mechanic and space rogue who offers to fix her ship, weren’t so tempting... or hiding secrets of his own. Bouchet’s storytelling is a bit over the top, describing feelings so intensely that it’s difficult for the emotional stakes to escalate. However, the characters are fun and likable, humor abounds, and the sex scenes are searing as well as sentimental. Bouchet, clearly planning on a series, ends the story on a cliff-hanger, and readers will be eager to know what happens to Tess and her friends. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Highland Renegade: Lords of the Highlands, Book 5

Amy Jarecki. Forever, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-2961-8

A chieftain’s daughter falls for the leader of an enemy clan in Jarecki’s engrossing fifth Lords of the Highlands installment (after The Highland Chieftain). In early-18th-century Scotland, Janet Cameron, daughter of the chief of Clan Cameron, attends a Samhain celebration with her brother, Kennan, and attracts the unwanted attentions of a drunken English soldier, Lt. Winfred Cummins. After slapping Cummins, Janet flees; enraged, Cummins pursues and captures her. Robert, Laird Grant—her father’s nemesis—rescues her, and they cross the mountains in treacherously snowy conditions. Janet breaks her arm, so Robert takes her back to his home to heal, despite knowing her father will see this as a kidnapping and escalate the feud that Robert hopes to end. In the face of numerous threats, Robert and Janet try to find a way to bring peace between their clans and forge a future together. Flirtatious, sensuous romance and adventure fill the pages of this mesmerizing historical, and the undercurrent of Jacobite rebellion raises the tension. Agent: Elaine Spencer, Knight Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The One You Fight For: The Ones Who Got Away, Book 3

Roni Loren. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-4926-5146-8

Loren’s gripping third look into the lives of survivors of a mass shooting (after The One You Can’t Forget) will leave readers breathless. It’s been 14 years since Taryn Landry, now a psychologist in Austin, Tex., survived a horrific incident at her high school prom that took the life of her sister. The night’s events also scarred athlete Shaw Miller, who gave up his Olympic dreams and now owns a gym. But where Taryn receives outpourings of sympathy, Shaw, the brother of one of the shooters, gets scorn. He changes his name and resigns himself to a solitary life as Lucas Shaw—until he meets Taryn again. Their mutual attraction is instant and undeniable, but the prospect of any kind of lasting relationship looks bleak. Her parents and others feel she’s betrayed them, and media types only see clickbait. All Taryn and Shaw know is they love each other, but they fear love may not be enough. This outstanding paean to seeing the humanity in others is a must-read for fans of contemporary romance. Agent: Sara Megibow, KT Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Pathogen Protocol

Darren D. Beyer. Darren D. Beyer, $13.99 trade paper (579p) ISBN 978-0-9973366-1-0

Like ripples in a pond, this frenetic space opera sequel to Casimir Bridge moves in bigger and bigger circles outward from the splashy events detailed in the opening volume. Jans Mikel and the other leaders of Applied Interstellar Corp., reeling from the invasion of their extrasolar headquarters, try to keep their source of the wormhole-generating hyperium hidden while security chief Grae Raymus organizes the resistance. Rival corporate power Tech Standard and its head operative, Erik Hallerson, force the issue by seizing the remaining known hyperium supplies, bringing the three Earth superpowers into their court. Mikel’s agent, Mandi Nkosi, makes a desperate attempt to contact a rogue AIC officer who’s now leading an Outer Sphere terrorist group. Beyer gives the reader little time to soak up atmosphere or to puzzle out the mysteries of his universe (such as the presence of telepathic alien AIs that boost human intelligence), but the fast pacing, occasional humor, and clear split between the good guys and bad guys push a lot of questions out of the way as the action pulls the reader forward. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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