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The Very Best of Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott. Tachyon (Legato, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-61696-179-4

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Elliott’s delightful first collection contains pieces set in the worlds of her major fantasy series—the Spiritwalker Trilogy, the Crossroads Trilogy, the Crown of Stars series, and the Jaran novels—as well as several standalone works and four essays about writing. No familiarity with any of the novels is required to understand the stories set in those worlds, but the existing settings lend depth, complexity, and intrigue to what might otherwise be simple tales. “Riding the Shore of the River of Death,” a bildungsroman about a young female horse-nomad who wants to be a warrior, benefit greatly from the depth of setting, as does the slapstick comedy “To Be a Man,” about a shape-shifting saber-toothed cat with an eye for the ladies. But the standalones especially shine, and the political intrigue and subtle humor that Elliott brings to the fascinating culture and government system of “The Queen’s Garden” make it perhaps the finest work in the book. This collection serves beautifully both as an introduction to Elliott and as a treat for fans who want more of her marvels. Agent: Russell Galen, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Into the Savage Country

Shannon Burke. Pantheon, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-307-90892-6

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Burke’s first venture into western fiction (after two novels set in the present, Safelight and Black Flies) is a masterpiece of historical accuracy and exciting storytelling. Set in the 1820s, this bawdy tale of unwashed mountain men and foul-smelling fur trappers follows a 22-year-old tenderfoot named William Wyeth, who is seeking his fortune as a trapper with such real-life notables as Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, and Hugh Glass. Wyeth is an idealistic young man, eager to prove his worth to his doubting father, and just as eager to win the affection of Alene Chevalier, the destitute widow of a friend. Then a rival for Chevalier’s attention shows up: the unscrupulous Henry Layton, an old enemy of Wyeth’s. Layton plans to start his own fur company and invites Wyeth (who needs money) to join, which is too tempting for Wyeth to refuse. Their Market Street Fur Company must compete with other American, British, and French trapping outfits, as well as the Crow and Blackfeet Indians, in western Wyoming’s inhospitable Wind River Mountains. Wyeth and his party contend with bear attacks, betrayal, and murder—and not all of them keep their hair. Meanwhile, Wyeth wonders if Alene will still be waiting when he returns from the mountains. This is a raucous tale of a young man’s dream colliding with reality, and it also makes an entertaining history of fur trapping. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick & Williams. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Fancy

Jeremy M. Davies. Ellipsis (www.ellipsispress.com), $14.95 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-940400-07-5

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Rumrill, the narrator of Davies’s (Rose Alley) fanciful novel, lives alone, surrounded by cats. He tells his story to a couple, the Pickles, who are there to interview for the position of caretakers for the cats. What unfolds is Rumrill’s wordy story of how he came to fancy cats under the tutelage of an eccentric and senile Austrian widower, Mr. Brocklebank. Each paragraph of the novel begins with “Rumrill said” or “he added,” and this repetition has a hypnotic effect, nudging the reader deeper into the underground caverns of the story. Later in the book, the narrative is interspersed with writings from Brocklebank’s surprisingly lucid and insightful multivolume system of cat fancying. Brocklebank views cat fancying as an art and philosophy—a way of organizing the world. Davies slowly peels away layers of contradiction to reveal the abstract mental gymnastics Rumrill uses to function in the world. The implied question is whether Rumrill invented Brocklebank, or the other way around? Is Rumrill/Brocklebank insane and simply speaking to a cat named Pickles? Is it all a dream? The possibilities raise existential and ontological issues that Rumrill addresses head-on in the course of his narrative. Davies has written a challenging but exceptional aria of a novel. This weird portrait of an unreliable and eloquent narrator could become a cult classic. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Shattered Trust

Lynda Bailey. CreateSpace, $9.99 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-5005-7655-4

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Bailey’s trend-chasing erotic romance places a BDSM overlay over the classic romance story of the attractive drifter charmed into settling down by a small-town woman with a tough exterior and a wounded heart. Bluebird Saloon owner Kathryn Landry returns to Trustworthy, Tex., from vacation, and is displeased to discover that her daughter has hired charismatic Liam St. James as the new bartender. When Liam’s teasing of his uptight new boss leads to a revelation about her unhappy past, he hopes to show her what healthy domination looks like. Bailey meticulously contrasts the behavior of Kathryn’s abusive ex, Ramon, with Liam’s fancy cooking, consent talk, and careful caretaking, but she still falls into the problematic model of top as savior, explicitly framing BDSM play as a cheap, effective substitute for psychotherapy. Bailey (Battle-Tested Love) is solid on the basics of safe words and checking in, but she lacks an intuitive sense of where the excitement of a scene lies, creating character interactions that are both emotionally shallow and wildly inconsistent. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Playing Doctor

Kate Allure. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $13.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0232-3

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Debut author Allure launches her Meeting Men series of erotic romance collections with this sizzling and sensual medical-themed trio of stories. In the satisfying, summery “The Intern,” smalltown doctor Lauren takes on a summer intern as a favor to a friend. She expects the intern to be a woman, but Courtney turns out to be a very sexy man, and intense chemistry and titillating teasing lead Court and Lauren to enjoy a series of sexual escapades. In “My Doctor, My Husband, and Me,” Valerie, who’s happily married with a rousing sex life, finds herself fancying her handsome podiatrist, and she decides to bring him home to meet her husband. Erotic touches, merry role-play, and ménage scenes singe the page. In “Seize the Doctor,” reserved Nikki is shocked when her new physician turns out to be the guy she flirted with the night before. This story blends sweetness and romantic love with sensual satisfaction. Readers will cheer on these strong women as they take the initiative, seeking (and finding) both sexual satisfaction and emotional fulfillment. Agent: Louise Fury, Bent Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Millionaire Rogue

Jessica Peterson. Berkley Sensation, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-0-425-27208-4

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The quest to find the elusive French Blue Diamond in Regency England is fraught with danger in the clever second installment of Peterson’s Hope Diamond Trilogy (after The Gentleman Jewel Thief). Writer Sophia Blaise is interviewing a famous madam, intending to write her memoirs, when London banker Thomas Hope bursts into the room. This unexpected meeting leads to a madcap race for their lives. Thomas has purchased the titular diamond from Princess Charlotte; when it goes astray, he must recover it to keep his business from going bankrupt. Along the way, a single kiss ignites passionate desire between Thomas and Sophia, but he knows that he can’t compete with Sophia’s aristocratic suitor, the Marquess of Withington. Sophia, quickly smitten by Thomas, must choose between marrying for a title and financial security or marrying for love. The romance is enticing, with a strong mystery propelling the story forward, and the characters are witty and real. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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An Affair Downstairs

Sherri Browning. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4022-8682-7

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Browning’s second Edwardian historical (after Thornbrook Park) further fleshes out the passions and drama at an English manor in 1907. Lady Alice Emerson, younger sister of Thornbrook Park’s mistress, Lady Averford, has no intention of marrying, despite societal expectations and family pressure. However, she still wants to experience love and pleasure. To that end, she has her sights set on the rugged estate manager, Logan Winthrop, a brooding loner with a dark past. Logan has likewise fallen for the impetuous, independent Alice, but he knows they can never give in to their desires. As Lady Averford finds her sister one unsuitable marriage prospect after another, Alice and Logan are inevitably forced to choose between love and propriety. Browning skillfully plays her characters off one another in a slow, charming manner, developing the relationship in a gentle fashion that doesn’t disguise the simmering fire. The shifting morals and social rules of the time provide the perfect impetus for Alice’s evolution and the story’s resolution. Agent: Stephany Evens, FinePrint Literary Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Silver Thaw

Catherine Anderson. Signet, $7.99 ISBN 978-0-451-41834-0

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Anderson’s series launch, set in Mystic Creek, Ore., recovers quickly from a sappy beginning where the heroine details her misery on strips of pink paper that she tosses to the wind outside her inadequate home. Plucky Amanda Banning and her daughter, Chloe, are on the run from her abusive husband. Banning is assisted in her fresh start by handsome Jeb Sterling, carpenter and pillar of the Mystic Creek community. Compassionate Jeb finds the papers on which Amanda scribbles her woes and starts worrying about his unknown but unhappy neighbor. When a blizzard strikes, he finds Amanda and Chloe, brings them to his home for shelter, and gives Amanda a job. Jeb is too perfect to be true, falling for Amanda immediately and spending a fortune to protect her and her child from the monster she married, but his decency and genuine devotion are convincing as Amanda learns to trust again. Romance veteran Anderson (Walking on Air) is a pro at making readers weep, despite her folksy, sappy characters and clichéd story. Agent: Steve Axelrod, Steve Axelrod Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Under His Touch

Jeffe Kennedy. Carina, $3.99 e-book (169p) ISBN 978-1-4268-9946-1

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Kennedy follows Going Under with this strong contemporary BDSM romance. Ambitious financial assistant Amber Dolors suspects her boss, Alec Knight, might share her love of kink. Alec, a British transplant to New York who’s still glum about his recent divorce, is captivated by his young assistant but is unwilling to do anything to jeopardize either of their careers. As their attraction grows, Alec and Amber must decide what they want from life and each other. Kennedy seamlessly mixes domination play and genuine equality without ignoring the potential problems that kink and romance could bring to the couple’s power dynamic at work and vice versa. Internal and personal tensions drive the narrative. Some external obstacles are thrown in as afterthoughts late in the book, making them less effective than they could be, and contemporary references may date this sooner than desired, but the core of the story is the development of a gripping and realistic relationship between two well-drawn characters. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Broken Bonds

Karen Harper. HQN, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1735-7

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Harper takes on the timely and controversial topic of fracking in her third Cold Creek contemporary romantic thriller (after Forbidden Ground). Idealistic social worker Charlene Lockwood is making home visits to vulnerable children in a remote area of the Appalachians when she sees businessman Matt Rowan nearly get run off the road. She pulls him out of his truck before it plunges off the cliff—and quickly falls for Matt, the general manager of the new luxury community of Lake Azure. Who would want Matt dead? Could it be the local cult, Hear Ye, which is headed up by a nefarious man named Bright Star Monson? Or could the villain be closer to home, possibly even Matt’s seemingly generous boss? As Char and Matt search for answers, they fall deeper in love and try to stay alive. The thrilling finish takes a twist that most readers won’t see coming. While intrigue is the main driver of the story, the able, well-researched plotting and sympathetic characters will keep romance readers along for the ride. Agent: Meg Ruley, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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