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The Last Cowboy in Texas

Katie Lane. Grand Central/Forever, $8 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4555-7584-8

A cowboy and a country singer find love in Lane’s sweet, funny seventh Deep in the Heart of Texas contemporary (after A Match Made in Texas). Vocalist Starlet (yes, that’s her real name) Brubaker is kidnapped from one of her performances. The tough former Marine who rescues her is none other than Beckett Cates; he may be big and strong now, but Starlet remembers him as the skinny teen she nicknamed Becky. Beckett’s time in Afghanistan has changed him, but not made him immune to Starlet’s charms. As Beckett tries to protect Starlet, the two become lovers, but their blossoming romance is complicated by Starlet’s longstanding crush on Beckett’s brother. When Starlet goes missing again, Beckett realizes that he’ll do anything for her, even if she doesn’t love him. Humor is never in short supply, especially when Starlet revisits her aunt’s old whorehouse and the aging women who resided there. Subplots involving other residents of tiny Bramble, Tex., add dimension to this tender romance enlivened with a touch of mystery. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Loving You is Easy

Wendy S. Marcus. Loveswept, $2.99 e-book (276p) ISBN 978-0-553-39123-7

Marcus (The V-Spot) introduces Brooke Ellstein, a sweet junior high school teacher who convinces herself that she’s in love with her soldier pen pal, Shane Develen. He’s adamant that he doesn’t want a girlfriend, but he’s not above pressuring Brooke for sexy pictures. When she acquiesces, he flashes them around to his buddies—and when he’s injured in combat, another soldier wastes no time claiming the photos and putting them online. Misunderstandings and exaggerations escalate the embarrassing situation. Brooke flees to Shane’s family for shelter from the media firestorm, but Shane is also at their house recuperating, and the two are thrust into near-constant conflict. Brooke’s unilateral decision that they should be a couple butts up against Shane’s attitude, which vacillates between misogyny and worship, as the two of them try to figure out a future they can live with. While some moments are enlightened and even sweet, most of the story is a sad exploration of immaturity better suited to Brooke’s adolescent students. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymour Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Wolf Haven

Lindsay McKenna. HQN, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-373-77903-1

McKenna’s gritty, heart-wrenching ninth Jackson Hole novel (after High Country Rebel) is one of her best yet. Lt. Skylar Pascal, formerly an ER nurse, survives a Black Hawk crash in Afghanistan but is captured and tortured. When she returns to the U.S., she leaves the Navy, hoping civilian life will help her recover from the trauma, but going back to working in an ER is unthinkable. When Sky joins the staff of the Elk Horn Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo., she meets a kindred spirit: former SEAL Grayson McCoy, who dealt with his own terrible past experiences by becoming an animal rescuer. As they work together, Sky slowly begins to heal, but before they can do more than edge toward exploring their crackling chemistry, a dangerous man threatens them both. The unflinching descriptions of flashbacks, panic attacks, and nightmares are riveting, making this essential reading for those who want to understand what PTSD can be like—though trauma survivors may find some of those same passages hard going. McKenna does a beautiful job of illustrating difficult topics through the development of well-formed, sympathetic characters. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg, Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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No Denying You

Sydney Landon. Signet Eclipse, $7.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-0-451-47278-6

The fifth in Landon’s Danvers contemporary series (Fighting for You) chugs right along until it takes an abrupt turn into a wall. The first half is sexy, fun, and filled with behavior that should lead to HR intervention for harassment and insubordination. Emma Davis and Brant Stone—her emotionally stunted, Type-A boss—sublimate their sexual chemistry with put-downs and subtle sabotage before she blackmails him into attending her reunion in Pensacola. As her pretend boyfriend, he charms her parents, even agreeing to join Emma in her oversharing mom’s Fifty Shades of Gray book club meeting until he realizes it’s not a book about ties. Just as their relationship gels, his ex-fiancée shows up in distress. In a flash the mood darkens and all the fun drains out of the book. Worse, Brant devolves from a stiff-necked jerk to a spineless one. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Razor Wire

Lauren Gallagher. Riptide (www.riptidepublishing.com), $15.99 trade paper (194p) ISBN 978-1-62649-188-5

Naval police officer Reese Marion doesn’t have much use for women like Kim Lockhoff, who give military women a bad name by trying to sleep their way to military promotion. At least, that’s what the rumors say, and she believes them—until Kim turns to her for help. Kim is trapped on the Okinawa Naval Station, subject to the authority of the officer who raped and impregnated her, and desperate for an ally. She’s also everything Reese wants: gorgeous, smart, and tough as the razor wire that was once her nickname. As the two women become friends and then lovers, they find mutual healing, but when they refuse to play by the rules of the male-dominated military hierarchy, their relationship gets turned against them. Gallagher (The Princess and the Porn Star) really makes the short novel format work: spare, lean, and erotic, without a wasted word. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Masseuse

Sierra Kincade. Berkley Heat, $15 trade paper (340p) ISBN 978-0-425-27799-7

Kincade’s contemporary debut is full of pleasant surprises. Anna Rossi doesn’t usually stay in one place too long, but Tampa is starting to feel like home. She works at a salon with an old friend while building a reputable business as a massage therapist. But when Anna accepts an in-home appointment with an industry magnate, she stumbles into trouble. Personal security guard Alec Flynn comes to her aid, but she can’t decide whether he’s trying to date her, protect her, or pull her deeper into shady business. Alec isn’t a stereotypical, misunderstood “bad boy” or a law enforcement officer working undercover. He has made some serious mistakes, but he’s motivated to change when he starts falling for Anna. She lugs around her own emotional baggage, but her decision to trust Alec and their torrid chemistry will keep readers paging along. Agent: Joanna MacKenzie, Browne and Miller Literary Associates. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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His Saving Grace

Sharon Cullen. Loveswept, $2.99 e-book (284p) ISBN 978-0-553-39157-2

Cullen (The Notorious Lady Anne) explores the ravages of war in this heart-wrenching historical set in 1855 England. Michael Ashworth went missing, presumed dead, in the Crimean War, leaving his brother, Nigel, to inherit the title of Earl of Blackbourne and look after Michael’s widow, Grace. Nigel arranges a betrothal for Grace, who is considering accepting it when Michael unexpectedly returns. Grace is thrilled, but her loving husband suffered horrible head injuries in battle and has changed dramatically. As he and Grace return to the manor house, she tries to help him understand that she still loves him and that they can work together to help him return to his rightful place in society. But Michael’s increasing depression, depicted in vivid detail, seems an almost unsurmountable obstacle, and Grace has no idea how to heal his ills. While many historicals explore the physical wounds of war, rarely do authors focus on the devastating effects of brain injuries. Grace is an admirable protagonist, very unlike the superficial aristocrats who are her peers, and unerringly loyal to her husband. Cullen has marked herself as an author to watch with this emotional tale. Agent: Jessica Alvarez, BookEnds. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lead

Kylie Scott. St. Martin’s Griffin, $14.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-05238-4

Scott’s third Stage Dive contemporary far outclasses the other two with a surprisingly delicate look at the underbelly of American rock and roll. Jimmy Ferris is the lead singer of a rock band; his brother, David, was the protagonist in Lick. Throughout the series, Jimmy has been a source of worry as he battles substance abuse. Lena Morrissey was quietly introduced in Play as a tough-as-nails lady with the thankless full-time job of keeping Jimmy sober. Scott has hinted that the answer to Jimmy’s trouble would come through love, and here she delivers on that tantalizing promise. Instead of avoiding the tedious and heartbreaking work of sobriety, she goes deep into the isolation and private pain, showing how the cruel kindness of firm-handed love can save a life. While retaining her mischievous and wisecracking signature style, Scott has also brought a tenderness and honesty to the material that is truly delightful. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Carbide Tipped Pens

Edited by Ben Bova and Eric Choi. Tor, $27.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3430-5

Choi (Far Orbit) and Bova (Transhuman) successfully recapture the feel of classic hard SF, presenting 17 stories in which science and technology are truly essential to the plot. The most enjoyable is Liu Cixin’s nifty “The Circle” (translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu), in which the fundamental concepts of computer science are developed in the court of King Zheng of Qin in the second century B.C.E. Another standout is Leah Petersen and Gabrielle Harbowy’s “Skin Deep,” featuring a mix of biology, personalized medicine, and some nasty twists. Daniel H. Wilson’s “The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever” is a touching and short tale of a father who learns about Earth’s doom minutes before everyone else. There are also solid contributions from Aliette de Bodard, Gregory Benford, and Jack McDevitt. The occasional miss—such as Doug Beason’s dull and predictable “Thunderwell,” a story that recalls weak 1950s SF in which broadly archetypical characters shout about science and politics—is easy to skip, and most of the works thoroughly explore both their characters’ lives and the implications of technological developments in the best hard SF tradition. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Black Widow

Jennifer Estep. Pocket, $7.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-4767-7454-1

Filled with death-defying feats and sweeping emotions, Estep’s 12th Elemental Assassin contemporary paranormal (after Poison Promise) is one of the strongest to date. Gin Blanco’s life as a full-time BBQ restaurant owner in the fictional Southern city of Ashland and part-time master assassin has always been anything but peaceful—and Madeline Magda Monroe coming to town will really shake things up. Madeline, the daughter of crime queen Mab Monroe, is taking aim at everything and everyone Gin holds dear. She plans to make Gin pay dearly for killing Mab—or is there another, deeper reason for her vindictive behavior? A zippy plot is enhanced by solid action scenes that build to a blistering crescendo, though seemingly invulnerable Gin never shows a hint of fear. Familiar faces and new characters bolster a plot that’s certain to captivate new and returning readers alike. Agent: Annelise Robey, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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