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Skyjack: A Kidnap-and-Ransom Novel

K.J. Howe. Quercus, $26.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-68144-301-0

Howe’s rip-roaring sequel to 2017’s The Freedom Broker finds kidnap and rescue expert Thea Paris escorting two orphaned brothers, 12-year-old Jabari and nine-year-old Ayan, from sub-Saharan Africa, where they witnessed their parents’ beheading by Boko Haram and were forced into becoming child soldiers before being rescued, to London, home of their new adoptive parents. En route, the chartered plane carrying Thea, the boys, and 12 other passengers is hijacked and lands in the Libyan Desert. Thea is tricked into leaving the plane, which takes off without her. Thea and her tactical team go into hyperdrive to negotiate the passengers’ return. Her old enemy, Don Prospero Salvatore, is behind the hijacking, demanding that she detain a truck filled with Syrian refugees bound for Budapest. Good thing Thea has serious skills in fighting, shooting, and flying a plane. The enthralling plot moves across Europe with lightning speed, linking a WWII legend with an underground militant group’s plan to release a deadly toxic substance. In-depth character studies match the high tension. With this nail-biter, Howe seals her place as a first-class purveyor of adventure stories showcasing strong women characters. Agent: Victoria Sanders, Victoria Sanders & Assoc. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Theory of Bastards

Audrey Schulman. Europa (PRH, dist.), $18 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-60945-437-1

Schulman’s wonderful, intricate novel (following Three Weeks in December) is set in the palpably near future. When the superstar of the biological research world, 33-year-old Frankie Burke, joins the team at an ape foundation in the Midwest, she thinks things are finally falling into place. She has just undergone major surgery to eliminate the chronic pain from endometriosis she’s suffered from since childhood, she is fresh off a MacArthur “genius grant,” and she now has a fascinating group of bonobos to help test her wild new theory about evolution—that women cheat on men because children born of extramarital affairs have evolutionary advantages. What she doesn’t plan on is the arrival of a dust storm, which causes a power outage, rendering useless the technology that keeps the foundation functioning—from the screens and cameras in the researchers’ eyes to the 3-D printer that feeds the apes. She also doesn’t plan on the closeness she develops with Stotts, her ex-military fellow researcher, or the relationships she will build with the creatures she cares for, or the harrowing journey they’ll all have to take together out of the research station. Schulman’s vision of the future is powerful and strange, but it is less a commentary on society’s dependence on technology than a propulsive story rooted in a future that feels possible. The incorporation of research into the narrative is seamless, and the result is an astute, impeccable page-turner readers will savor. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Demi-gods

Eliza Robertson. Bloomsbury, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-1-63557-070-0

Set in both British Columbia and Southern California, Robertson’s searing debut novel (following the story collection Wallflowers) is a richly layered coming-of-age story exploring the thrills and dangers of a young girl named Willa and her adolescent sexual awakening. The novel takes the form of an impressionistic montage of Willa’s memories, in which she retrospectively interrogates her formative years, beginning in the summer of 1950 when she is nine years old. Willa’s hard-drinking and distant mother invites her Californian boyfriend and his two sons, Kenneth and Patrick, to stay at the family’s Salt Spring Island, B.C., beach house. Willa and her 12-year-old sister, Joan, are left to fend for themselves while the two parents are largely distracted by their own bickering, and while Joan and Kenneth form an immediate bond—they will marry only seven years later—Willa and Patrick’s relationship develops over the subsequent decade through a series of increasingly fraught and experimental sexual encounters and shared secrets, culminating in a devastating tragedy off the San Diego coast that severs their intimate yet often twisted bond. Willa’s memories, from the vantage point of four decades after the accident, map her gradually becoming aware of her own body and how the repercussions of untamed desire can shape futures. Robertson’s deliciously enigmatic style is the perfect analogue to Willa’s absorbing yet deeply haunting journey of self-discovery. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Play for Keeps

Maggie Wells. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-5152-9

Wells’s second Love Games erotic contemporary (after Love Game) scores with the sex but falters with the romance. Wolcott University’s public relations head, Millie Jensen, indulges her mutual attraction with men’s basketball coach Tyrell Ransom after his wife leaves him for one of his superstar players. Their relationship starts with a long-distance burn as Ty waits in Reno, Nev., to get his divorce papers settled; when he returns to Wolcott’s unspecified Midwest location, their passion explodes into satisfying encounters rich with pure enjoyment amid gentle power plays and smart, hot banter. Millie and Ty’s situation seems perfect until Millie’s hang-ups about remaining independent get in the way. Millie’s gal pals, introduced in the first book, are entertaining; the interracial aspect of the leads’ midlife connection (she’s white, he’s black) is unmistakably present but low-key; and the chemistry is strong. However, the uneven pacing of the central conflict undermines the romantic thread. The final plot twist jumps to lifelong commitment without stopping to build a real relationship, leaving readers with an unwelcome sense that the protagonists’ happiness won’t be forever. Agent: Sara Megibow, KT Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Hot and Badgered: Honey Badgers Chronicles, Book 1

Shelly Laurenston. Kensington, $15.95 trade paper (417p) ISBN 978-1-4967-1434-3

Laurenston builds on the popularity of her Pride and Pack series with the funny and quirky first Honey Badgers Chronicles paranormal. Charlie is the oldest of three half-sisters, all of whom are part human and part honey badger shifter, and she takes her responsibilities very seriously. Charlie is the peacemaker, middle sister Max embraces her full devil-may-care nature, and Stevie, the youngest, is a prodigy in several fields. While Stevie is on a mental health break in Switzerland, humans abduct her, attempting to kill Charlie in the process. Fortunately for all, Charlie meets Berg, a grizzly shifter and security specialist with a fondness for helping damsels in distress. What ensues is a frantic joyride through several countries, reintroducing beloved faces from earlier books and sparking new family feuds. Laurenston focuses on the three sisters as relative outsiders to their shifter heritage, showing that they face somewhat significant challenges due to their hybrid natures. Though the plot stalls in places, the story embraces the familiarity of old friends and the excitement of new, sometimes ridiculous adventures. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg, Ethan Ellenberg Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Running the Risk

Lea Griffith. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-2174-4

Griffith delivers an over-the-top adrenaline rush with this fast-paced romantic thriller, the latest in her Endgame Ops series (after Flash of Fury). Endgame black ops expert Jude Dagan believes his true love, teammate Ella Banning, died during a mission gone horribly awry. Griffith sends Jude on a heart-pounding journey to find the truth of Ella’s fate, rife with ruthless international criminals, traitors, and a team that would never fail any of its own. Around every corner—whether it’s in Jude’s hideaway in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains or a tiny cell in what might as well be hell—lurks the unexpected. After Jude discovers that Ella is alive, he makes it his mission to bring her home, but Horace Dresden, former Navy SEAL turned traitor and international arms dealer, foils him at every turn. It’s imperative that Jude find out who’s really pulling the strings before Ella dies for real. Griffith keeps the suspense going throughout, right up until the hair-raising finale, which neatly sets the stage for the next episode in this saga. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymour Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Scandalous Deal: The Four Hundred Series, Book 2

Joanna Shupe. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-267891-1

In Shupe’s shimmering second Four Hundred historical romance (after A Daring Arrangement), set in the late 19th century, a daring architect falls for her employer. Lady Eva Hyde travels from London to New York to start working on the Mansfield hotel project in lieu of her father, famed architect E.M. Hyde, who was commissioned for the project but is too ill to complete it. While aboard ship, Eva shares a memorable champagne-infused evening with Phillip, a handsome fellow passenger. Both are shocked when they meet again in New York: Phillip is Phillip Mansfield, the hotel’s owner. He reluctantly agrees to allow Eva at the construction site if she purports to be Hyde’s secretary and only stays until Hyde can join them. He is unaware that the designs are Eva’s own and that her father will never be well enough to come to New York to work. As Phillip starts to thaw towards her professionally and becomes increasingly enamored of her personally, sexual tension leads to romantic interludes. Readers will adore Eva’s determination to succeed professionally and insistence that Phillip must respect her career goals if they are to have any chance at love. Agent: Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The First Time at Firelight Falls: Hellcat Canyon, Book 4

Julie Anne Long. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-267290-2

In the sexy fourth California-set Hellcat Canyon contemporary (after Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap), Long introduces her hottest hero so far: clever, handsome Gabe Caldera, principal of Hellcat Canyon Elementary and former Navy SEAL. Florist Eden Harwood keeps everything close to her chest, including the identity of her 10-year-old daughter’s father, but her attraction to Gabe, and his to her, grow impossible to hide. She initiates a series of secretive sexual encounters with him, but the intensity of their passion unfortunately disguises the confusing magnitude of their true feelings. Their shaky balance is compromised when someone from Eden’s youth arrives unexpectedly in Hellcat Canyon, and she must deal with her own past actions, plus swiftly multiplying consequences, by building an honest and solid relationship with Gabe. Vivacious banter and rich rapport among the secondary characters invigorate this enchanting, fun, and realistic series. Agent: Steve Axelrod, Axelrod Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Traitor Born

Amy A. Bartol. 47north, $14.95 trade paper (345p) ISBN 978-1-5039-3691-1

In this convoluted continuation of the saga started in 2016’s Secondborn, Roselle St. Sismode is caught among numerous factions in a struggle for control of the Fates Republic, a caste-driven society where firstborns rule, secondborns serve, and all others are ruthlessly hunted down and killed. Her mother, head of the military, wants her dead for political reasons, while the secret Rose Garden Society plots to install Roselle in her mother’s place. Meanwhile, a rebellion to overthrow the rigid caste system is in full swing, and the rebels also have plans for Roselle. As she remains sequestered in an ally’s home, Roselle has to balance duty and obligation with conscience and honor. When tragedies rock the republic and a hidden faction makes its move, even Roselle may be unable to prevent disaster. Despite cinematic action sequences and ambitious storytelling, Bartol’s work suffers from pacing issues and inconsistent worldbuilding. Too little happens for too long in this installment, and then breakneck events lead to a cliff-hanger ending. Furthermore, Roselle has a crowded field of three love interests, none of whom is able to hold the reader’s attention. This story has potential, but fails to fulfill it. Agent: Tamar Rydzinski, Laura Dail Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Space Opera

Catherynne M. Valente. Saga, $19.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-4814-9749-7

Valente (Radiance) imagines Eurovision in space, with high and deadly stakes, in this frenetic, imaginative intergalactic extravaganza set many years after the brutal Sentience Wars roiled the galaxy. The hero is “leggy psychedelic ambidextrous omnisexual gendersplat glitterpunk financially punch-drunk ethnically ambitious glamrock messiah” Danesh Jalo, aka Decibel Jones (“Dess”) of the glam-rock trio Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros. The band was huge for a feverish minute, but is long defunct: Mira Wonderful Star was killed in a car crash, and Oort St. Ultraviolet is now a session musician with an ex-wife and two kids. Dess, awash in faded glitter and despair, pines for the double-platinum days, so when a “seven-foot-tall ultramarine half-flamingo, half-anglerfish thing” appears and explains that he must compete in the Metagalactic Grand Prix for the future of his species, he jumps at the opportunity. They don’t have to win, but if they come in last, humankind is toast. Can Dess and Oort, with help from a fast-talking red panda named Öö, save the day? Valente’s effervescent prose is wildly creative and often funny, but frequent tangents can make for chaotic reading. Her many fans will be enthralled with this endearing, razzle-dazzle love song about destiny, finding one’s true voice, and rockin’ the house down. Agent: Howard Morhaim, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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