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The Mountain

Paul Yoon. Simon & Schuster, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5011-5408-9

The second collection from Yoon (Once the Shore) is composed of six quiet, precisely told short stories bound by the longing for meaning and connection embodied by its mostly migrant protagonists, each of whom has suffered either direct or indirect trauma from wars fought by previous generations. These stories span multiple continents and time periods to arrive at human truths about how greatly our lives are affected and influenced by our shared histories. In “A Willow and the Moon,” a man returns after serving in World War II to an abandoned sanatorium in the Hudson Valley where his mother had volunteered when he was a child, ultimately seeking answers to the mysteries of his family’s past. In “Still a Fire,” a young man named Mikel, living in the shantytowns of northern France in the destruction left behind after World War II, suffers a terrible tragedy and is cared for by a morphine-addicted nurse on her own search for meaning after having served with the Red Cross during the war years. And in the title story, a bleakly futuristic vision of East Asia, a young woman returns home to China from Korea, working in a sweatshop producing cameras while also reckoning with her own traumatic past and the devastation it wreaks in the present. These characters are often foreign in some way to the places in which they find themselves, and Yoon expertly interrogates the meaning of nationhood and the universality of the migrant experience. Most often the stories are structured as montages of inner experience; moments of connection are the sparks that ignite these otherwise meditative, reflective narratives. The result is a spectacular display of intelligence and feeling. Agent: Bill Clegg, the Clegg Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Match Fit

Amelie S. Duncan. Amelie S. Duncan, , $0.99 ASIN B01M000NJJ

Duncan (Tiger Lily) opens the Love and Play series with a scorching winner of a contemporary romance. Brooke, age 23, is determined to do without her affluent parents’ connections and make her own way as an actress in New York. She has the talent—it’s just a matter of getting the break. Enter Dylan, a new player for the New York City Football Club (which plays soccer, not American football). He’s also determined to make it in the acting world, but his reputation as a partying playboy is scaring Hollywood away. Brooke’s agent sets her up to be Dylan’s wholesome fake girlfriend to help rebuild his reputation, and soon they’re blurring the line between public and private personas. Dylan’s domineering and occasionally crass attitude initially comes across as abrasive, and Brooke’s girl-next-door charm is tarnished by her frequent lapses into insecurity. The highly charged erotic romance between the pair sparks hot and heavy, laden with instant attraction and sexy submission. There are several richly developed side characters whose stories may unfold in later books. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Need You

Stacy Finz. Zebra Shout, $4.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4190-0

Finz’s by-the-numbers small town Sierra Nevada romance does little to engage readers or encourage them to read further books about the Garner family. Colt Garner, the resolutely single police chief of fictional resort town Glory Junction, Calif., still periodically works as an extreme sports and tour guide for Garner Adventure, as well as keeping a hand in country music. His primary contact with clothing designer Delaney Scott, who has retreated from Los Angeles to Glory Junction to restart her career following an adversarial divorce, is a conflict over access to the easement road they share. Finz skillfully creates a robust gallery of extensive supporting characters and a believable small town, but the story is marred by stilted pacing, factual errors, and gender stereotypes. Agent: Melissa Jeglinski, Knight Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Blind Date

Bella Jewel. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-10836-4

Jewel (the MC Sinners series) opens her standalone contemporary romantic thriller with fun characters and an interesting setup, but suspense is not the book’s strong suit. Thirty-three-year-old widow Hartley Watson insists she’s not ready to return to the dating scene. Even though it’s been four years since her husband, Raymond, died in an automobile accident, the whole notion of dating scares her. Nevertheless, when her friend Taylor presents her with three prearranged encounters via an online dating service, Hartley grudgingly agrees. The first two are disasters. Number three, however, looks like a match: Jacob is good-looking, considerate, charming, and employed. He’s totally unlike Hartley’s detective neighbor, Ace Henderson, who mostly refuses to acknowledge her existence but is sometimes directly rude. These relatable characters are set up in a way that could lead to any number of interesting and innovative stories, but instead, Jewel relies on a familiar plot. Shortly after Hartley starts dating Jacob, certain items suddenly, mysteriously appear in Hartley’s apartment—things only Raymond would have known about. From there, whatever tension Jewel may have built is diluted by the story’s utter predictability. Agent: Kimberly Brower, Rebecca Friedman Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Fly Away with Me

Susan Fox. Zebra, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4324-9

Canadian author Fox (the Caribou Crossing series) launches a contemporary series with this thoughtful and sometimes ponderous novel set on picturesque Destiny Island, B.C. The overly earnest heroine, lawyer Eden Blaine, takes leave from her busy job in Ottawa to look for her long-lost aunt, who left home at 17 and headed for a commune on the isolated island. Aaron Gabriel, the handsome pilot of Blue Moon Air, likes his relationships as brief as his tourism flights. Eden recently broke up with her shallow boyfriend (who was dismissive about her mother’s cancer diagnosis) and is ready for a distraction; she and Aaron are very different, and she talks about herself so much that he clams up about his personal concerns, but they turn out to be compatible in and out of bed. After Eden returns home, Aaron locates her aunt and realizes he misses Eden more than he expected. The last third of the book deals with Eden and Aaron’s mutual realization that they want more than a fling, and their deep discussions of how and where they can plan a future together. Fox’s inclusion of serious issues such as cancer, cults, and abusive relationships is well-intentioned but heavyhanded and doesn’t always mesh with the escapist elements of the story, but readers will relate to the difficulties of the long-distance relationship and Eden’s family troubles. Agent: Emily Sylvan Kim, Prospect Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Bad Deeds: Dirty Money, Book 3

Lisa Renee Jones. Griffin, $15.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-08384-5

Continuing the twisted telenovela-like Dirty Money saga, Jones’s third contemporary romantic thriller about the superwealthy Brandon family and their associates (after Damage Control) delivers erotic and emotional punches. Shane Brandon, the young legal lion who’s come home to Denver to save his family’s mega-conglomerate, continues his love affair with his CEO father’s sweet but secretive secretary, Emily. The company and family are being torn apart by Brandon Senior, who’s keeping Shane and his brother, Derek, at each other’s throats. The situation only becomes more complex with the introduction of Adrian Martina, leader of the Martina drug cartel (and brother of Derek’s girlfriend), and his proposal to help the Martina and Brandon families make forays into more legitimate business opportunities. With myriad enemies at their gates, Shane and Emily must work to unite the family despite a plethora of secrets and betrayals. The ride through a minefield of plot twists is capped by a deliciously cruel cliffhanger ending. Agent: Louise Fury, Bent Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Summer on Firefly Lake: Firefly Lake, Book 2

Jen Gilroy. Forever, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6960-1

Gilroy’s sweet-natured second small-town contemporary (after The Cottage on Firefly Lake) has charm to spare. Mia Gibbs is recovering from a painful divorce when she returns to Firefly Lake, Vt., where she spent childhood summers. She’s happy to share the beautiful spot with her daughters, Emma and Naomi. Lawyer Nick McGuire, the town’s bad boy made good, is recovering from his own divorce—which was partly spurred on by his inability to father children. After Nick hires Mia to help his mother pack up her house, sparks begin to fly. The two try hard to ignore the potent chemistry simmering between them, but soon that plan is cast by the wayside. Then Mia’s overbearing, unfaithful ex-husband shows up, threatening to fight for sole custody if Mia doesn’t take him back. The delightful supporting cast—particularly feisty young Kylie, who’s staying at a camp for foster kids while she’s between homes—and expertly plotted story add depth and richness to this tale, leaving readers eager for another visit to Firefly Lake. Agent: Dawn Dowdle, Blue Ridge Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Bayou Blues

Sierra Dean. Sierra Dean, $2.99 e-book (416p) ASIN B00THF9EYM

Spinning off of her Secret McQueen urban fantasy series (Something Secret This Way Comes, etc.), Dean delves deeper into the psyche and life of Secret’s younger sister, Genie, in this light, enjoyable novel. When Genie was 13, she acquired both her werewolf form and her magical power. Either one would have been challenging to master, but having both has complicated her life exponentially. She’s not just any werewolf, but a werewolf princess; and she’s not just any witch, but niece to the King of the South. At 21, Genie’s a college student in New Orleans with a human boyfriend, Cash. Werewolves and other supernaturals have recently made themselves known to the human public, and not everyone is happy about their existence. When one of her pack mates goes missing, Genie drops everything to help his brother, Wilder, find him. Their simple detective work quickly unearths a dark and horrifying corruption that seems to have spread throughout an entire small town. Occasionally slow pacing prevents the story from flowing smoothly and gives the plot a tentative feel. However, beautifully drawn characters and strong worldbuilding ensure that readers will be curious about what comes next. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Killing It Softly

Edited by Suzie Lockhart. Digital Horror Fiction, $14.39 trade paper (483p) ISBN 978-1-927598-50-4

This reprint anthology of 32 horror stories by female authors maintains an impressively high level of quality in both prose and chills. After opening with a few pieces with period settings, including H.R. Boldwood’s “Lambent Lights,” the book moves through most of the standard types of horror in informal, ambling groupings: body horror stories such as Rebecca J. Allred’s “Ecdysis,” spooky house stories such as K.S. Dearsley’s “Graffiti,” stories evoking folktales such as Elaine Cunningham’s “Ravens,” and zombie and vampire stories such as Nancy Holder’s “Changed.” Though the collection doesn’t aim for cultural diversity, a few pieces, including Sarah Hans’s voudou-centered “Long Time No See” and Nidhi Singh’s “Guilty by Chance,” reach beyond American and European topics. The collection doesn’t make any particular statements about femininity; Lockhart focuses on raising up female horror writers as a community, eschewing any notion of common themes or approaches. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Worst Man on Mars

Corben Duke and Mark Roman. Grand Mal, $14.99 (413p) ISBN 978-1536930979

Duke and Roman inspire much laughter in their first book, which features a British crew on the first manned trip to Mars in 2029. Mission commander Flint Dugdale is looking forward to becoming the first man to set foot on the red planet. However, his position as leader was only achieved through luck and the suspicious death of the original commander. Dugdale’s personality is loathsome, but at least the ship has reached its orbit. There’s only one problem: the domed habitat where the team is meant to survive is not ready. The androids sent ahead to prepare the facility have failed, and the reasons become clear as their ridiculous antics unfold. The story moves swiftly between the struggles of the crew with their ship’s hysterically intrusive programming and the bumbling, anthropomorphized androids. Plenty of intriguing plot twists expand the story and its characters. With humor that ranges from slapstick to the macabre, this story reveals the absurdity that might ensue if technology is endowed with too much personality. (BookLife)

This review has been modified to reflect the price and ISBN of the trade paperback edition of the book rather than the e-book.

Reviewed on 06/16/2017 | Details & Permalink

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