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Lost Wages of Sin

Rosalie Stanton. Dominic & Stanton, , $2.99 ISBN 978-1-945074-16-5

This supernatural erotic romance, which opens the Saints & Sinners series, presents a fascinating scenario—immortal siblings who embody the seven deadly sins—but stumbles in the execution. Ava, short for Avaritia, has just been dumped by an angel. Somehow the angel discovered that Ava is a Sin, which was supposed to be a closely guarded secret, and Ava fears Lucifer will kill her—or worse—for letting it slip. She flees to Natchez, Miss., where she encounters her eternally loyal and sexy vampire friend, Dante. Ava should be focusing on saving herself, but she can’t ignore the intense chemistry and long history she and Dante share. Ava is often a cipher whose motivations are explained but not fully shown, Dante is jealous and possessive, and their erotic encounters are sometimes clumsily written. Ava’s intriguing relationships with other immortal beings aren’t given much time to develop. Still, the promise of long-buried love finally emerging and the inventive worldbuilding will be enough to draw in less demanding fans of paranormal romance. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Unscripted

Minnie Adams. Ubiquitous Books, , $5.63 ISBN 978-1-5272-1846-8

Babysitting a disenchanted movie star leads to love in Adams’s entertaining tale of celebrity life, which is balanced by a sober message of support for victims of harassment. When publicity assistant Andromeda “Andi” Hart first sees handsome Joe Ascher, she playfully sticks her tongue out at him. She’s horrified to discover that Joe is a cynical movie star that she’s assigned to monitor during a big film event. Although Andi salvages Joe’s reputation after he gets drunk, her job is jeopardized, but Joe, tired of using his fame to take advantage of others, gets Andi hired as his publicity assistant. The entertainment industry’s warped values are highlighted when Joe’s producer hits on Andi and her pleas for help are ignored. Additional drama and tension arise as Joe and Andi’s very different worldviews threaten their relationship. Vivid, fresh descriptions and apropos movie titles for chapter headings further enhance this thoughtful story. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Once a Scoundrel

Mary Jo Putney. Zebra, $7.99 mass market (325p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4096-5

Putney’s third Regency Rogues Redeemed historical (after Once a Rebel) sizzles with passion and adventure. Gabriel Hawkins Vance is dismissed from the Royal Navy after abandoning his post to rescue a midshipman, but he continues his seafaring career, eventually captaining his own ship and earning a living as a blockade runner. He sails to the Barbary Coast to rescue Lady Aurora “Rory” Lawrence and her companion and cousin, Constance. They are being held by pirate Malek Reis for a ransom of £50,000—money that Malek needs to ransom his own wife and children from his ruthless cousin, Gürkan. Though Malek is unwilling to release the women for less than £50,000, he agrees to let Gabriel take Malek, Rory, and Constance to Constantinople, where Gürkan awaits them. As Gabriel and Rory fall in love, they share the fear that Gabriel’s plan will fail. Despite the clichéd threat that Malek will sell Rory and Constance into harems, Putney takes care to respectfully portray her Turkis characters. Subtle yet sensuous romance keeps the pages turning. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Big Bad Cowboy

Carly Bloom. Forever, $6.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-6343-8

In this charming debut, Bloom’s adroit humor animates congenial Big Verde, Tex., where Army veteran Travis Blake has returned to prepare the dilapidated family ranch for sale and take responsibility for his five-year-old nephew. Struggling for funds, landscaper Travis attends a fancy Halloween party thrown by a potential client and is unwittingly smitten with his competition, Maggie Mackey. Wolf-masked Travis and Little Red Riding Hood Maggie share a shatteringly sexy anonymous evening. This leads to spicy text exchanges that contrast with the slowly increasing, sweet intimacy of their in-person relationship. The romance provides support for them both as tough Travis learns to be a tender father and Maggie deals with unexpected difficulties with a close friend. A kindhearted subplot involving a gay character enforces the story’s overt and subtle takedowns of toxic masculinity. Fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillips will delight in this funny, optimistic, quirky contemporary. Agent: Paige Wheeler, Creative Media Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Dangerous Exes

Rachel Van Dyken. Skyscape, $9.99 trade paper (333p) ISBN 978-1-5039-0451-4

Love, lies, and deceit run rampant in this deliciously sordid, steamy contemporary, the second in Van Dyken’s Liar’s Ink series. PI Isla Turner thought she could smell a liar a mile away, but her senses failed her when it came to quarterback Jessie Beckett. In Dirty Exes, she was hired by Jessie’s ex to catch him cheating, only to find out her client was the guilty party. Jessie’s career was ruined and he is hell-bent on revenge—which backfires on him when the press catches him in a compromising position with Isla and they have to claim to be engaged. As they work together to save his reputation and her business, Isla and Jessie’s fake relationship brings them closer, physically and emotionally, and Isla’s vivacity adds color to Jessie’s otherwise dull life. Jessie’s total aversion to marriage crumbles, but their happily-ever-after is put in jeopardy when his original plan to bring Isla down comes back to haunt them. Goo-Poh, Isla’s enchanting aunt, adds spice and humor to their lives with her hunger to see Isla married. Van Dyken has loaded this winner with humor, a touch of suspense, and plenty of delicious sex scenes that will leave readers breathless. Agent: Erica Spellman Silverman at Trident Media Group. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Last True Cowboy

Laura Drake. Forever, $6.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-53874-643-1

In Drake’s often heartbreaking western romance, a small town’s favorite high school sweethearts are forced to face growing up as individuals and finding out whether they are still meant to live their dream life together. Carly’s finally had enough of putting her life on hold. After Austin tells her yet again that “after next season” he’ll quit the rodeo and settle down, she breaks up with him. Furious that no one believes she’s serious this time, she takes a trip to Albuquerque, has a one-night stand she barely remembers with a stranger who gives a fake name, and gets pregnant. While Carly must face telling the news to everyone in the judgmental town where she runs the diner, she is becoming an adult who isn’t half of a couple. Meanwhile, Austin is learning she’s right: he’s too old for the rodeo circuit, and it’s time for him to return home. He still wants Carly, despite their shared concerns about the pregnancy, but he has to convince her to take him back. Drake (Sweet on You) takes readers on a beautifully imperfect journey with two people who can no longer have their ideal future, but learn that the real one might be even better. Agent: Nalini Akolekar, Spencerhill Assoc. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Hearts Unloched: Haunted Voices

Claire Gem. Erato, $3.99 e-book (318p) ISBN 978-0-9974326-0-2

This suspenseful but unsatisfying tale centers on a mystery at a haunted resort in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y. Kate Bardach, a wealthy Jewish interior designer who can see ghosts, and Marco Lareci, an even wealthier Italian investment broker, meet at a racetrack near the resort, and Marco asks her to work on renovating the resort, which he just purchased. Unbeknownst to them, the hotel is haunted by a presence that is connected to a dark secret in Kate’s family history and seems intent on disrupting the remodeling attempts. Though the story is set in 2014, the attitudes toward gender and ethnicity are antiquated (Marco looks “like an old-time mobster,” and he immediately thinks of Kate as “this bitch” and “Princess” while observing that her voice is nasal). The supernatural aspects are intriguing, if somewhat predictable, but the uneven pacing of the central relationship between the main characters makes it hard for readers to connect with the story. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Awaken an Angel: The Otherkin, Book 1

M. Pickard. M. Pickard, $2.99 e-book (301p) ASIN B079THDQR1

Pickard tangles love and prophecy in this brisk paranormal romance series launch. Seven-year-old Mia runs into the street to save a dog, and is almost struck by a fast-moving van. Luke, a good demon, saves Mia and coaxes her into believing angels and demons exist. He returns each time Mia is in need, gradually revealing more about why he’s in Mia’s life and what larger forces of good and evil are at work. Pickard puts a fresh spin on the oft-told tale of destined mates fighting evil to save the world, creating an understandable magic system and intriguing mystery. However, much of the story is explained in narration, with little action. Readers will find Mia a quick-witted, genuine, and emotionally available heroine who’s evenly matched by Luke’s thoughtful intensity and devotion as their relationship grows. This story will appeal to many readers of paranormal romance. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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No Man of Woman Born

Ana Mardoll. Acacia Moon, $4.99 e-book (174p) ASIN B07C86CX8G

Mardoll (Pulchritude), who uses xie/xer pronouns, explores how a variety of gender identities undo prophetic expectations in xer provocative fantasy collection. In “Tangled Nets,” impoverished nonbinary fisher Wren chooses to be the annual sacrifice to a boastful dragon who claims no man or woman can kill it. The exceptional “King’s Favor” pits an insignificant hedge-witch spy with minor herbalist skills against an evil witch queen who has barricaded her borders and purged the land of all other magicians. Nocien avenges the slaughtering of his father’s other sons and wives in the violent “His Father’s Son.” Though most stories avoid angst and are casually queer-affirming, the trans heroine of “Daughter of Kings” has to retrieve her grandmother’s sword in the stone before her politically besieged father begrudgingly accepts her chosen name and identity. The gender specificity of the “Sleeping Beauty” curse in “Early to Rise” founders on Claude’s daily fluidity and possible asexuality. Among the many outstanding stories are a few that fall a little flat—such as the overly literal “The Wish-Giver,” in which a young child fights a dragon for the boon of having everybody see her true gender—but on the whole this is a strong and highly original collection. Readers yearning for more diverse representations of gender in fantasy will be more than pleased with these fresh, humanizing stories. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Ghost

Jamie Blake. 50/50, $12.99 trade paper (270p) ISBN 978-1-947048-17-1

Blake’s crowded paranormal debut follows two concurrent, loosely entwined narratives: the sudden death of 22-year-old Christian Orland and the grief of the loved ones he leaves behind, and a revolution in the realm of the 16 Fatalities, the sentient embodiments of death among humankind. Christian’s brother, Noah; his first love, Ellery; and his girlfriend, Melissa, are haunted by memories of the troubled young man and the unresolved questions surrounding his death. Woe, the 16th Fatality, responsible for Sudden, Expected Death and charged with bringing about Christian’s end, questions whether he should have died by her hand at all. Amid personal, romantic, and supernatural upheaval, all four characters pursue the answer to one question: was Christian murdered? Though boasting its fair share of inventive concepts, the story is bogged down by a glut of static tertiary characters and underdeveloped subplots, resulting in a plodding pace and minimal development. Blake’s debut is far from perfect, but it shows potential that will hopefully be fulfilled in future projects. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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