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Subverting Justice

Don Easton. Dundurn (IPS, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $11.99 trade paper (408p) ISBN 978-1-4597-3980-2

The high-adrenaline 11th installment (following A Delicate Matter) in Easton’s gritty series featuring Cpl. Jack Taggart, an undercover agent for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, begins just after the murder of Damien Zabat, the head of the Satans Wrath motorcycle gang operating in Vancouver, B.C. Purvis Evans or “Pure Evil or Pure E,” the new leader of the gang, is suspected of being responsible for his death, as well as of ordering the torture and murder of three other people. A message written in blood at the triple-murder scene threatens Jack. Aside from the dangers of trying to bring down Pure E, Jack must also deal with a clueless assistant commissioner who disapproves of his methods and is about to become his new boss. Easton ramps up the action in this installment, with Jack enlisting Mack Cockerill, a Satans Wrath insider, to help him track Pure E’s drug shipments. This is an exciting cat-and-mouse game involving high-level Russians, cocaine traffickers, and local drug gangs. This novel is perfect for readers who want a tense thriller and a realistic view (Easton spent 20 years as an RCMP undercover agent) into the dark mazes where of gangs, informants, and undercover cops try to trap each other. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 01/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Merciful Secret

Kendra Elliot. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (373p) ISBN 978-1-5420-4786-9

In FBI agent Mercy Kilpatrick’s third outing (after A Merciful Truth), she’s drawn into a murder investigation after one of the victims dies in her arms. Now Mercy and her boyfriend, police chief Truman Daly, must discover what links an elderly woman living deep in the Oregon woods and a once-famous Portland judge, both stabbed to death in what appears to be a ritualistic manner. As Mercy delves deep into the secrets and sins of several generations, she finds unexpected connections between the two families involved. Meanwhile, she continues to grow her social life and consider reconnection with her own estranged kin—an uncomfortable notion for a woman raised as a doomsday prepper. She’s not sure how to reconcile her need for security and self-protection with her love for Truman. Elliot delivers a fast-paced, tense thriller that plays up the small-town atmosphere and survivalist mentality, contrasting it against an increasingly connected world. The romantic angle is subtle, with the established relationship between Mercy and Truman slowly and satisfyingly maturing as they solve the mystery. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Infraction

Rachel Van Dyken. Skyscape, $9.99 e-book (305p) ISBN 978-1-5420-4843-9

In this charming contemporary romance, second in the Players Game series (after Fraternize), forbidden love blooms between a cheerleader and a football player. Kinsey Romonov’s overprotective older brother, Jax, has forbidden his football teammates from even looking at her. Then Kinsey’s odious ex-boyfriend shows up. To get the guy to leave Kinsey alone, Jax tells his buddy Quinton Miller to pretend to date her. Little does he know that Quinton and Kinsey have already had a fling, and they can’t keep their hands off each other in private. But an actual romance seems out of the question—not with her father dying of cancer, and Quinton’s own deep-rooted emotional issues. Meanwhile, Jax meets Harley, a feisty model who might just be the one to crack his cool exterior. Sadly, no playbook can tell Quinton or Jax how to win the game when love is on the line, so they’ll have to fumble their way toward the happily-ever-after with their respective partners. Though van Dyken tends to throw in an excess of drama and overwrought emotions, the book boasts genuine chemistry, scorching bedroom scenes, and moments of laugh-out-loud humor, making this a satisfying tale. Agent: Erica Spellman-Silverman, Trident Media Group. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Magic Spark

Sara Dobie Bauer, Em Shotwell, and Wendy Sparrow. Pen and Kink, $4.99 e-book (215p) ISBN 978-1-988233-28-4

This collection brings together the initial installments of three magic-themed romance serials, with two additional volumes planned, but the stories fail to hold the reader’s interest for that long. Sparrow (the Taming the Pack series) layers an unpleasantly stalkerish vibe onto a meet-cute in “When Demigods Court Death”: a demigod of fertility moves in next door to the demigod of death, planning to inform her of her identity and force her into a relationship that will balance both of their powers. Shotwell (Blackbird Summer) contributes “These Roots Run Deep,” the most complete of the stories, but the petulant heroine, bent on making her sisters help use their grandmother’s spell book to force her straying boyfriend to stay forever, is so clearly in the wrong that her distastefulness trumps the piece’s scant humor. Bauer (Bite Somebody Else) builds her setting more carefully and deeply for “Destiny’s Dark Light,” the only truly serialized story, and her protagonist and family are more relatable 21st-century witches. The story blends the beginnings of a war against dark magic, in which the protagonist is prophesied to be a key player, with the personal story of discovering that the person fated to be her true love is already in love with someone else. Readers may not feel great drive to seek out the forthcoming volumes and find out how these stories continue. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Moonlight Sins: A de Vincent Novel

Jennifer L. Armentrout. Avon, $7.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-267455-5

This suspenseful, if occasionally overwrought, contemporary romance begins a series featuring the rich and powerful de Vincent family, which has long been haunted by tragedy. Troubled adult brothers Lucian, Gabriel, and Devlin still live in the palatial Louisiana family home. When Lucian’s twin sister, Madeline, who’d been missing for 10 years, reappears—barely conscious, for reasons no one can ascertain—and then patriarch Lawrence takes his own life, the brothers must confront unpleasant truths. Meanwhile, they hire warmhearted and straitlaced nurse Julia Hughes to take care of Maddie. Subterfuge on Lucian’s part gets their working relationship off to an uncomfortable start, but Julia is drawn to Lucian despite herself and eager to do what she can to help Maddie. Both emotional and erotic tension drive the narrative along at a quick pace. Sometimes the answers to various plot questions are less than satisfying, but the complex mysteries and slightly gothic atmosphere will keep readers coming back for more. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Thanks Fur Last Night

Eve Langlais, Milly Taiden, and Kate Baxter. St. Martin’s Griffin, $16.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-15971-7

These contemporary novellas about shape-shifters are marketed as erotic romance, but caveat emptor. An opening declaration of “Kill. Kill. And, yes, kill,” uttered by an ursine stalker preparing to shoot a family in their own backyard, makes it clear that more than lust is being triggered here. Langlais’s “Bearing His Sins” casts the stalker as a romantic hero despite his death threats, fondness for nonconsensual sexual contact, and nonexistent emotion. It’s a thriller told in the dialect of alpha male pornography: “I’ve got something just the right size to stick in there.” The casual objectification and misogyny sit oddly next to Taiden’s sweet “Bought by the Bear,” which features a relationship of convenience that turns into true love when a shifter hires a human woman (who’s a survivor of domestic abuse) to pose as his mate for a family occasion. Baxter’s “The Alpha and I” offers the subgenre’s staple plot: a human woman living on the fringes of civilization encounters an unconscious stranger and takes him in, gradually discovering his shifting abilities and embracing his difference as he fights to keep them both safe from the evils of his world. Aside from shifter-as-hero, there is no common theme drawing the stories together, and no exceptional quality either. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Rogue Is Back in Town: The Wayward Wallflowers, Book 3

Anna Bennett. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-10094-8

In the entertaining third installment of Bennett’s Wayward Wallflowers series (after I Dared the Duke), Juliette, the only unmarried one of “the infamous Lacey sisters,” faces a choice between two brothers: Nigel, the respectable but secretly conniving Marquess of Currington, and his younger brother, Sam, a rogue whose debauched reputation precedes him. The brothers physically resemble each other, but their characters are very different. Nigel forces Sam to evict Juliette and her uncle from their home, intending to threaten her reputation and compel her to become his mistress. Sam, after a couple of days clandestinely living with Juliette, falls in love, having discovered someone for whom he’s willing to redeem himself. Some suspension of disbelief is required; for example, Juliette has no qualms about losing her virginity to Sam, though he gives no indication that their relationship has any possible future; she feels it’s worth it because he “made her feel... beautiful, respected, and loved.” Nigel’s character lacks nuance, being purely evil. However, Juliette’s Uncle Alistair has a sweet charm, and the story’s action, plot twists, and lovers with good hearts and good chemistry offer plenty to satisfy Regency fans. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Best Gay Erotica of the Year, Volume 3

Edited by Rob Rosen. Cleis, $16.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-62778-220-3

In this fine anthology of original erotica, 17 authors explore the many varieties of gay male lust. While most are set in the present day, a handful explore other times and places, such as Richard May’s gentle centuries-spanning vampire tale, “Hemoglobin”; Karl Taggart’s spine-tingling “Ghostly Affair”; and Kenzie Matthews’s “Emissary,” a futuristic look at an alien negotiator whose race literally lives for sex. T.R. Verten looks at the secret lives of Hollywood celebrities in “Red Carpet Jitters,” a married couple spices up the routine with a three-way in “Ugly-Sexy” by Gregory L. Norris, and a wedding brings two friends closer together in Rhidian Brenig Jones’s “Shame the Devil.” Most of the stories are solidly satisfying, their sensual components ranging from mild to thoroughly raunchy. Landon Dixon’s “Hard Case” is a rare misfire, a parodic look at a manipulative private detective that’s full of over-the-top euphemisms and distractingly bad imagery. Otherwise, this collection has plenty of range in tone, theme, kink, and emotional connection. These family men, lonely scientists, eager bartenders, and curious frat brothers all work hard for their happy endings, which will make readers happy too. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 01/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke: Keeping Up with the Cavendishes, Book 4

Maya Rodale. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-238681-6

Rodale concludes her Keeping Up with the Cavendishes Regency series with this delightful fourth installment (after Lady Claire Is All That). James Cavendish travels from America to England after learning that he has inherited the dukedom of Durham. While staying at a tavern in Southampton, he meets the beautiful Meredith Green, and the undeniable attraction between them leads to one night of incredible passion. When James and his sisters arrive at the London home of their aunt, Dowager Duchess Josephina, James is surprised to learn that the woman he met at the tavern is a companion to the duchess. The encounters between James and Meredith at Durham House are filled with longing and regret, as she frequently reminds him of his duty as a duke to marry a woman suitable to his rank, not a mere lady’s companion. The ever-present desire and romantic yearning lure the reader into James and Meredith’s story, which Rodale writes with great depth of emotion. This series finale will leave readers deeply satisfied. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 01/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Tailor-Made

Yolanda Wallace. Bold Strokes, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-63555-081-8

Bespoke tailor Grace Henderson stumbles through the opening half of this romance, which includes trans and genderfluid characters but seems to be mostly written for a cis audience. Grace is only into ultrafemme lesbians—or so she thinks, until she falls for androgynous bike messenger Dakota Lane, a rising star in the modeling world. An idealized version of Brooklyn sets the stage for their sweet romance, and several stereotypical characters appear throughout the novel to teach Grace life lessons. Somewhat excessive internal narration moves the story along; Dakota briefly deals with a modeling challenge and a quick visit from a wayward relative, while Grace designs custom suits and overthinks everything else. The world of clothing design is vividly rendered, and the conflicts with families (on both sides) who don’t entirely approve is well-conceived. As Grace comes to realize and expand her limited understanding of gender, she eventually opens her heart, but a little less mystery around Dakota’s gender identity would have made this a stronger book. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 01/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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