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Perfect Gravity

Vivien Jackson. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-4819-2

In Jackson’s breathless second near-future Tether romance (after Wanted and Wired), supergifted and technologically enhanced politician Angela Neko lusts after supersexy veterinarian Kellen Hockley, who’s on the opposite political side. Kellen is bent on saving all the humans and animals he can from the toxic fallout of the conflict between the rebellious Texas Provisional Authority and the United North American Nations. Potty-mouthed Angela, now 30, has been rising to potential UNAN veep-ship by surreptitiously nudging the TPA toward all-out war. The two had a scorching encounter eight years before, and Jackson choreographs a colorful mating dance for them: Angela uses all her tech enhancements to lure Kellen close enough to ravish, and “scrumptious” Kellen manfully tries to fight off her advances with the help of his illegal nanorobotic intelligence, Chloe; his tech-modified communi-cat, Yoink; and excessive Texas expletives. Their joint adventures are imaginative and lusty to start, but Jackson lingers a little too long on unmaskings of villains, governmental takeovers, disintegrating ecosystems, and refugee problems. She leaves room for more episodes of her strange new world while bringing Kellen and Angela to a rapturous but unlikely solution to the eternal quandary: how to balance career and cuddling. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Highlander’s Princess Bride

Vanessa Kelly. Zebra, $7.99 mass market (425p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4113-9

The strong third installment in the Improper Princesses series is a thoroughly satisfying Regency romance. When prim-and-proper Victoria Knight’s former employer dies while attempting to assault her, she decides to leave town until she’s sure she won’t be convicted of killing him. She flees to Scotland, where she accepts a position as governess for the siblings of the noble Nicholas Kendrick, Earl of Arnprior. Nicholas knows Victoria is hiding something, but he needs her calming demeanor to get his siblings—ages 12 to 25—under control. His household is in disarray after his surly, argumentative grandfather, Angus, was left in charge while Nick was fighting in the war against Napoleon. Nick has suffered great losses, and he has no tolerance for dishonesty. Victoria’s family has sworn her to secrecy in order to protect her, but the family of the deceased is out for revenge, and Victoria knows it’s only a matter of time before her secret is revealed. Kelly has infused this perfectly paced, detailed sequel with several juicy secrets, a lot of riffraff, and some danger, making it a well-balanced addition to the series. Agent: Evan Marshall, Evan Marshall Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Little Pieces of You and Me

Vanessa Greene. Sphere, $13.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7515-6376-4

Greene’s unconventional romance covers love found, love lost, and the benefits of long-term friendship. In present-day Amsterdam, stage actor Isla is dismayed when her usual coffee shop is closed, but she notices there’s one she’s never tried before—a combination cafe and bookshop—just a few yards away. Maybe it’s not love at first sight, but Rafael, the shop owner, definitely catches her interest. Meanwhile back in Bristol, England, Isla’s university bestie, Sophie, is wondering where her life is going. She’s married to a man who seems happiest in the company of other women and who has a hostile 16-year-old daughter. As these carefully crafted characters come to life on the page, they dominate the plot even to the point of very nearly obliterating it. Romance is decidedly put on the back burner as Isla and Sophie face illness, love, rejection, and disappointment. In the end, friendship wins the day, but romance readers may not find the conclusion satisfying. Agent: Caroline Hardman, Hardman & Swainson Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Road Home

Margaret Way. Zebra, $7.99 mass market (313p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4172-6

In this enjoyable contemporary, Way (Her Australian Cattle Baron) combines romance with a decades-old mystery and the dazzling beauty of the Australian outback. Bruno McKendrick is a successful businessman who attends a party near Sydney Harbor and sees an extremely beautiful cellist, Isabelle Martin. She looks exactly like Helena Hartmann, a missing woman whom Bruno’s father Ross, a private investigator, was searching for years ago. When Bruno approaches the ethereal Isabelle, he is disappointed to learn that she is not related to the wealthy Hartmann family. After Bruno shows Isabelle pictures of Helena, she is startled by the incredible likeness and starts asking her parents about her birth. Her mother’s defensiveness and shockingly evil response are almost too sinister to be believable. The secrets behind Helena’s disappearance are slowly revealed as Bruno and Isabelle travel to the Hartmanns’ remote homestead seeking answers about her parentage. Somewhat predictably, Hartmann family members believe that Isabelle is pretending to be Helena in order to gain part of their wealth. The mystery behind Helena’s disappearance propels the novel forward at a swift pace as romantic tension heats up between Bruno and Isabelle, and readers will eagerly follow them to the satisfying ending. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Undercover Attraction

Katee Robert. Forever, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4555-9707-9

Robert (Forbidden Promises) combines strong chemistry, snappy plotting, and imperfect yet appealing characters in her fifth O’Malley contemporary. Driven, defensive NYPD cop Charlie Finch, daughter of an FBI agent, is discredited after her former comrades falsely brand her as a dirty cop. Mob boss Aiden O’Malley tries to maneuver his family through the treacherous shoals of fear and double-dealers; even among mobsters, there’s a code of honor, and at least one family is flamboyantly not adhering to that code. It might seem counterintuitive for a crime fighter and a crime committer to hook up, but they have a common enemy, and the powerful passion that engulfs Charlie and Aiden from the outset makes their original cover story—a hasty engagement—believable. This installment is easily readable as a standalone, and it’s a worthy addition to a sexy series. New readers will want to look up Robert’s backlist. Agent: Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Duke in Shining Armor

Loretta Chase. Avon, $7.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-245738-7

Longtime romance author Chase’s first Difficult Dukes historical sparkles with wit. The unconventional 1833-set historical romance between Lady Olympia Hightower and Hugh Philemon Ancaster, Duke of Ripley, begins when Olympia leaves the Duke of Ashmont, Ripley’s close friend, at the altar. Ripley impulsively follows her, intending to get her to return and marry Ashmont, but circumstances conspire against his plan. Meanwhile, their marvelous banter and delicious chemistry banish the staid behavior that earned the bespectacled 26-year-old the title of Most Boring Girl for each of her seven London social seasons. As she decides to explore activities and experiences that have always been off-limits to her, Ripley tries to remain honorable. Chase’s spot-on humor and period-authentic writing combine with easy-to-love characters for a superb soufflé-light romance. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Ceiling Man

Patricia Lillie. Patricia Lillie, $12.99 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-5412-6413-7

A supernatural creature arrives in the small, fictional town of Port Massasauga and sets his sights on Abby, a girl with psychic powers similar to his own, in Lillie’s gripping debut. Carole has her hands full raising an autistic 17-year-old and dealing with a hypercritical mother-in-law; as horrific murders begin to coincide with her daughter Abby’s increasingly abnormal behavior, life becomes even harder. Abby’s the only one who can see the Ceiling Man, a body-snatching predator who feeds on human flesh, and thus is the only one who can stop him. Lillie sidesteps horror clichés and presents characters who don’t make eye-rolling decisions. Shifting perspectives keep the tension elevated, though it does makes the finale confusing. The quick jumps between characters can make it difficult to keep the action straight. Regardless, horror fans should expect an entertaining novel that’s tough to put down and is evocative of old slasher flicks. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Until the Last Dog Dies

Robert Guffey. Night Shade, $15.99 trade paper (322p) ISBN 978-1-59780-918-4

Guffey’s sardonic, cleverly written comedic debut relies heavily on absurd synchronicity, bold characterization, and heavy irony to make its points about the apocalyptic nature of American humorlessness. However, his own humor and metahumor sometimes struggle to find their footing in a tale that evokes the work of Robert Anton Wilson with a hint of Flowers for Algernon. Elliot Greeley and his fellow second-tier L.A. comedians find their professional and personal lives devastated by a brain virus that causes people, including their audiences and some of their colleagues, to lose their senses of humor without realizing it. Guffey effectively displays humor’s use as a defense mechanism in the strong central portion of the novel, in which Elliot’s sarcasm is met sometimes with banter, inviting the reader into the fellowship of those who get the joke, and at other times with unnerving sincerity that is inherently funny in its incongruity. But Guffey settles in unevenly at first, leaving it unclear whether the reader is supposed to find the protagonist the butt of the joke. Terse final chapters that extend from the personal into the political, as Greeley’s own humor is affected, are disturbing but less sharp. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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New York Fantastic: Fantasy Stories from the City That Never Sleeps

Edited by Paula Guran. Night Shade, $15.99 trade paper (424p) ISBN 978-1-59780-931-3

Although not all of the 20 fantastical stories in this anthology could only have happened in New York (Elizabeth Bear’s moving “The Horrid Glory of Its Wings,” about an HIV-positive teenager’s encounter with a harpy, never mentions New York and could have been set in any city), most make creative use of the Big Apple’s varied communities and cultures. New Yorkers in search of suitable housing will appreciate Naomi Novik’s funny “Priced to Sell,” featuring a vampire who disdains condos because they “let anybody in.” Karl Bunker demonstrates his imagination in “Caisson,” in which the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge leads to a surprising discovery. The standout entries are Peter S. Beagle’s tale of centaurs in Van Cortlandt Park, “The Rock in the Park,” and Peter Straub’s moody and haunting “Pork Pie Hat,” about the search for the dark truths behind a jazzman’s music. Guran mixes horror with gentler fantasy to keep the volume from being monotonous. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Nine

Tracy Townsend. Pyr, $18 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-633-88341-3

Townsend’s intriguing debut of nearly flawless writing follows an extremely flawed creation. In this alternate universe, science has become a religion that views God as a great experimenter. A magical book, which lists the nine people God is watching to decide whether to destroy the world, is desired by many factions with different goals. Anyone who learns about the book is likely to be targeted by the minions of the evil Nasrahiel, a nonhuman who wants humankind to fail God’s trial. Thirteen-year-old underworld courier Rowena Downshire is something of a passive protagonist who’s pushed around by the story. She doesn’t know the package she’s delivering is the book. When it’s stolen, she reports the theft to its intended recipient, the mysterious and dreaded Alchemist, who pulls her into a world of battles against Nasrahiel and other villains that’s far more dangerous than the poverty-stricken life she’d endured. The portrayal of God as the ultimate scientific experimenter and a civilization in which rationality does little to fend off brutality and corruption make for a gritty series opener. The most appealing characters are those who willingly travel to the scariest places, and all hopes are nerve-rackingly pinned on them. Agent: Bridget Smith, Dunham Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/15/2017 | Details & Permalink

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