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Force of Attraction

D.D. Ayres. St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-04218-7

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Undercover assignments can play havoc with personal lives. Just ask Officer Scott Lucca. His marriage broke up right after his last assignment went to hell, and it’s taken him years to get back to some semblance of normal life. In this action-packed and romantic second K-9 Rescue adventure (after Irresistible Force), Ayres introduces dastardly smugglers who surgically implant packets of drugs into puppies in order to cross state borders. Scott and his SWAT dog, Izzy, can’t take down the operation without a cover story. Unfortunately, their ideal partners are Scott’s ex-wife, Cole, and her new K-9, Hugo, a 95-pound Bouvier des Flandres. While play-acting a couple in the first bloom of love, Scott and Cole find that the longer the case goes on, the more confused their feelings get. Heavy-duty sensuality and solidly researched K-9 operations are hallmarks of this appealing series and will delight fans of smart dogs, exciting action, and steamy romance. Agent: Denise Marcil, Denise Marcil Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Elle

Emma Mars. Harper Perennial, $15.99 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-227419-9

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Mars follows Hotelles with another erotic tour de force that plumbs the depths of unbridled sexuality, betrayal, and addiction. Annabelle “Elle” Lorand, a former escort with the now-defunct Belles de Nuit agency, is healing from her bitter breakup with her fiancé, David Bartlet. She has an unexpected new lover: David’s brother, Louie. As Louie leads Elle through a lengthy series of erotic encounters, he offers her an uncompromisingly libertine sexual education, one that she believes is backed up by love and commitment. But after Louie is jailed for his part in a raunchy performance-art project, Elle discovers secrets that call their entire relationship into question. Mars doesn’t stint on the explicit details, but this novel isn’t just about titillation; it also explores the boundaries of trust and love in the context of a well-crafted mystery. Readers will eagerly await the third and final book. Agent: Anna Jarota Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Courtesan Duchess

Joanna Shupe. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3552-7

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Shupe’s heartfelt debut opens the Wicked Deception series, a Regency trilogy featuring fearless heroines. Julia, the Duchess of Colton, disguises herself as Juliet Leighton, a well-known London courtesan, and travels to Venice to see the husband who abandoned her following their wedding eight years earlier. She believes that the only way to avoid financial ruin is to produce an heir, even if that means duplicitously seducing her own husband. Julia is tenacious and determined, and entirely unprepared to actually like her husband, Nick, whose caring nature seems at odds with his unwillingness to face his responsibilities to her. After learning that “Juliet” is his wife, Nick struggles to reconcile his anger over Julia’s deception with his continued desire for her. Romantic tension heightens the intensity of the sensuous love scenes, as the two struggle to mend their fractured relationship. This original and alluring novel is a very promising beginning to Shupe’s career. Agent: Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Bite at First Sight

Brooklyn Ann. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4022-7450-3

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The sure-footed third book in Ann’s Regency-era vampire series (after One Bite per Night) is entertaining and interesting in its marriage of vampire lore with historical romance. Cassandra Burton, the young Dowager Countess of Rosslyn, wants to be a doctor. Denied entry to medical school, she stoops to grave-robbing to expand her anatomy training. She is caught by Rafael Villar, a vampire with a damaged arm. Rafe can’t resist biting the alluring and provocative Cassandra, but he finds himself in deep trouble when it becomes clear she’s immune to being hypnotized into forgetting their encounter. Now it’s his duty to keep her prisoner until the ruling Elders decide if Cassandra will be killed or Turned. Meanwhile, she wins his heart while healing his injuries. By turns dark and sexy, this is a fine addition to the genre and solidly establishes Ann as a growing talent. Agent: Eric Ruben, Ruben Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Fade to Black

Sue Duff. CrossWinds, $17.50 trade paper (458p) ISBN 978-0-9905628-0-1

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Ian Black is only 19, but the weight of the modern world rests on his shoulders in the form of his magical heritage. Ian is also the star of his own stage show, using his secret powers to supplement his tricks and illusions, and a bit of a vigilante, sniffing out danger among members of his audience and rushing to defend them against the forces of evil. When he saves Rayne Bevan, a local college student bent on investigative reporting, he becomes the subject of her professional interest, and soon she leads Ian’s enemies straight to his door. Danger abounds for Ian and his friends, but the tension and suspense simply don’t hold up, and Duff’s writing often feels clunky. Her characters are all technically adults, but they react and behave like younger teenagers. Even undemanding readers will struggle to appreciate the slow-moving story and its immature characters. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Darkest Side of Saturn: Odyssey of a Reluctant Prophet of Doom

Tony Taylor. iUniverse, $25.95 trade paper (492p) ISBN 978-1-4917-3421-6

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Taylor (Counters) starts this near-future novel strongly with well-rendered protagonists, but the story soon falters and collapses. Dreamer spacecraft engineer Harris Mitchel and driven astronomer Diana Muse-Jones discover an asteroid that, unbeknownst to them, is on a possible collision course with Earth. Soon the intrigue of astronomical discovery gives way to a hackneyed critique of religion, personified by Rev. Ernest Farnsworth, an evangelical leader who vilifies Harris in a last-ditch attempt to keep his congregation going. The inciting plot point, the asteroid’s path, isn’t revealed until halfway through the overlong slog and is buried in a mess of romantic affairs both real and speculated. Layered characterizations become flat archetypes, and the women—including, most disappointingly, Diana—become either leering seductresses or angelic stay-at-home wives and mothers. The book’s unfocused attempts at humor sometimes succeed but mostly fail. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Debt

Chloe Neill. NAL, $15 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-451-47232-8

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Neill demonstrates an able hand with pacing, emotional development, and entertaining doses of snark in the 11th Chicagoland Vampires urban fantasy (after Blood Games). Springtime brings new challenges to Chicago’s vampires, as Merit, the Cadogan House Sentinel, and her Master and paramour, Ethan Sullivan, face personal threats from Balthasar, Ethan’s presumed-dead creator, and a shadow organization headed by Merit’s ex, Morgan Greer. The cooperative skills of the newly minted Assembly of American Masters are tested, and Merit’s previous immunity to vampire glamour can’t withstand assault by Balthasar, creating intimacy issues for her and Ethan. Merit and Ethan are aided (and occasionally hindered) by magical allies, the Cadogan House staff, and Merit’s father and grandfather, as they engage in overt and covert battles for control over the powerful vampire houses. Little characterization details like Merit’s enthusiasm for refreshments, destructive tendencies toward formal wear, and complicated family emotions enhance this brisk adventure. Agent: Lucienne Diver, Knight Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Pegasus Colony

Phyllis Moore. Myth Rider (mythrider-
publishers.com), $14.50 trade paper (313p) ISBN 978-0-9907091-0-7

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An interesting concept isn’t enough to outweigh the limp prose and weak characters in this debut novel of interstellar space travel. In the mid-22nd century, a disaster causes humanity’s first space colony, located on the planet Akiane, “in the constellation Pegasus,” to be cut off. Communication is re-established 300 years later, at which point the colonists have no interest in the World Space Coalition that sponsored their original mission. They do, however, agree to talk to communication tech Jessica Hewitt, who thus becomes the person on whom all hope of a reconciliation rests. The core plot is interesting enough, split between the backstory of the colonists surviving on the harsh planet and the conflicts brought about by the economic and scientific interests of the Terrans, but Moore’s writing undermines the story, with generally flat prose occasionally giving way to awful faux-Southernisms (“as grateful as a cat in a tuna factory,” “grinning like a possum eating a sweet potato”). (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Human Monsters

Gregory Lamberson. Medallion, $14.95 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-60542-730-0

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In this fifth and final volume of the Jake Helman Files (after Tortured Spirits), Lamberson rushes to complete his circular design. Jake discovers no new threats, but plenty of old enemies return. Throughout his battles with the paranormal, Jake has been losing parts of himself, as well as friends and colleagues. His archenemy, CEO Tower, makes evil use of his company’s cloning technology and a paranormal ability to transfer memories from the dead. He revives his spider/human personal assistant, as well as Jake’s dead wife and her murderer. Most confusing is that Tower has also created versions of Jake and dispatched them to attack anyone with an interest in helping Jake survive. As Jake rejoins many battles he thought he had long since won, the story inevitably retreads old ground, but with plenty of strong moments of action and horror. There is less urgency than the sense of a fond farewell. The confident conclusion will satisfy both new and longtime readers. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Infinity Bell

Devon Monk. Roc, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-0-451-46737-9

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Grit and adrenaline drive the action-filled, romance-tinged second novel in Monk’s House Immortal SF/fantasy series (after House Immortal). Matilda Case is one of the 13 immortals called the galvanized. She and her brother, Quentin, are working on ensuring that Abraham Seventh, a fellow galvanized, regains his health—even as they’re all on the run from the various Houses, thanks to complex and dastardly political machinations with long-reaching effects. While attempting to remain free, Matilda and her family (both by blood and by choice) must race against time to prevent genocide on a global scale. Continuous action makes for a roller-coaster effect, as the myriad twists and turns of politics and time-travel slam together. Each sentence is crafted for maximum impact, with exquisite storytelling and relatable, emotional characters. There are more than enough loose ends to ensure continued readership for future installments. Agent: Miriam Kriss, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/30/2015 | Details & Permalink

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