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Tracy Solheim. Berkley Sensation, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-0-425-27580-1

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Solheim moves on from her debut Out of Bounds series, but not too far; this Second Chances series opener is set in the same town, Chances Inlet, N.C. Big enough to spawn several celebrities but small enough to be as catty as a high-school clique, it’s the perfect setting for a stormy encounter between hunky native son Gavin McAlister, a wannabe TV star, and Ginger Walsh, a former ballerina struggling back to the dance world after a catastrophic injury. Since Ginger briefly played a soap opera villain, many of the townspeople don’t trust her with Gavin; their inability to separate role from actress is a conceit that wears thin long before Solheim lets it go, but Ginger and Gavin also have their own, more solid reasons for not leaping into a relationship. This is a brisk and heartfelt read, and not weighed down with an excess of backstory. Agent: Melissa Jeglinski, Knight Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Falling Away

Penelope Douglas. NAL, $14 Trade Paperback (368p) ISBN 978-0-451-47244-1

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Douglas’s hard-edged, emotionally raw third Fall Away new adult romance (after Rival) seethes with passion. Good girl K.C. Carter is home from college for the summer and still reeling from a rough breakup. Vulnerable K.C. is unable to resist the dangerous charms of Jaxon Trent, the bad boy next door. The clash of personalities leads to a series of steamy encounters, and the two begin falling in love despite their best efforts. However, K.C. has to escape the shadow of her dead sister and emotionally abusive mother, while Jax has his own checkered past to overcome. When K.C. reclaims her birth name—Juliet—and Jax opens up his heart, they can finally start healing each other. Passion and anger simmer on the page, turning love into a battlefield (in which sex is one of many skirmishes) as Douglas unleashes her characters’ inhibitions and dark sides. Sometimes it’s hard to believe Juliet and Jax can calm down long enough to establish a healthy relationship, but their chemistry is downright explosive. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Dreamer’s Daughter

Lynn Kurland. Berkley Sensation, $15 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-425-26284-9

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The ninth Nine Kingdoms romantic fantasy (after River of Dreams) wraps the story up neatly while leaving room for Kurland to continue exploring the richly detailed world. Aisling wants to hold on to her belief that she is just a humble weaver from a secretive country where magic is inexplicably being drained away. But when she returns to Bruadair, she finally accepts that it’s her responsibility to gather her courage and save her country and her descendants from those who seek to control the world. Rather than weaving, she shall become a spinner of light and magic. The witty banter between Aisling and her elven knight errant, Rùnach, lightens what could otherwise have been a dark adventure. Aisling and Rùnach’s sweet courtship enhances this lovely quest fantasy. New readers should begin with the first book in the series to understand what motivates Aisling and Rùnach, and to better enjoy the cameos of characters from previous adventures. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Nameless

A.C. Williams. Crosshair/Steel Rigg
(www.crosshairpress.com), $14.99 ISBN 978-0-69220-476-4

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In the first book of the Destiny trilogy, a woman’s lost memories bring mysterious syndicates to her doorstep, willing to ignite a war to capture her. Xander’s only hope is to find a neurotherapist who may be able to unlock her secrets, but her journey is fraught with questionable loyalties, sociopathic hunters, and rocky romances. When Xander is saved from an ambush by bounty hunters on a rickety ship, she desperately clings to them despite her suspicions that they have ties to those who chase her. Central to Williams’s story are two questions: how much should one sacrifice one’s present life because of mistakes or forgotten memories, and how much does the past define current and future identity? The religious elements of the narrative feel jarring and forced, but they are far and few in between, though foreshadowing suggests further development of those elements in subsequent installments. Williams’s prose is serviceable, and she straddles the lines between conventional and unconventional science fiction thrillers, offering an easy-to-read but thoughtful and dark tale that holds promise. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Emissary

Thomas Locke. Revell, $14.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-8007-2385-9

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Locke (a pseudonym for Christy-winning inspirational thriller author Davis Bunn) launches the Legends of the Realm fantasy series with this competent story that owes more to the Lord of the Rings trilogy than the Bible. Hyam, a young man expelled from the wizard-run Long Hall under mysterious circumstances, finds an ancient orb that conducts a mystical force, and feels within himself “the power to transform this force, redirect it, utilize it.” Hyam is joined by a woman named Joelle who had been held against her will by wizards; she escapes to become Hyam’s swordbearer, protector, and love interest. They determine that the orb must be destroyed or it will be used by dark powers to rule the realm. Locke capably builds suspense but overplays the lead-up to the inevitable showdown. Even if fans of Bunn’s international thrillers don’t follow him over to the fantasy realm, readers of inspirational fantasy will enjoy his foray into a new genre. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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King of the Cracksmen

Dennis O’Flaherty. Skyhorse/Night Shade, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-59780-551-3

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Debut novelist O’Flaherty creates a well-rounded alternate 19th-century setting, in which Russia controls much of North America, for this otherwise unremarkable mystery. After the murder of boarding house owner Maggie O’Shea, her boyfriend, Liam McCool, sets out to find the killer. Along the way, McCool discovers a multi-level conspiracy that traces throughout the U.S. government and learns that he is an unwitting pawn of Edwin Stanton, the most powerful man in America. McCool is joined in his quest by Becky Fox, a Nellie Bly stand-in, as they travel across an authoritarian post–Civil War country. McCool, a hard-bitten safecracker (the titular cracksman) who’s trying to do the right thing, lacks the suavity to be a successful antihero. The dialogue often seems to be for the benefit of the reader rather than the characters. The world McCool and Fox move through demonstrates that O’Flaherty has done plenty of research and thought through the implications of the changes to history, but even the rich background can’t quite balance out the book’s other shortcomings. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Spell Blind

David B. Coe. Baen, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8024-5

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Coe (the Blood of the Southlands epic fantasy series) brings deep knowledge of both fantasy and mystery to his well-structured first urban fantasy novel. Justis Fearsson is a weremyste, someone who loses much of his sanity near the full moon. This condition cost him his job as a police officer; now he’s a PI for hire. But the unsolved Blind Angel murders still haunt him, and he gets drawn back into the investigation when the latest victim is the daughter of a prominent politician. As he digs for clues, he encounters shady drug dealers, shadier magicians, and a beautiful reporter and blogger named Billie Castle. His former partner, Kona, is still on the force, and she assists in his mortal detective work while an ancient ghost helps him improve his magic. Coe may be on oft-trod ground, but he tells an entertaining story with a good mystery at its core. Agent: Lucienne Diver, Knight Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Evensong

John Love. Skyhorse/Night Shade, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-59780-552-0

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Ominously credible changes in the world, which Love (Faith) has nudged a scant 45 years into the future, provide fertile ground for his extended musing on the nature of the soul, but indistinct motives and implausible reactions hamper his efforts. The promising foundation staggers under the weight of an improbable affair between bioengineered super-killer Anwar Abbas—an employee of the newly interventionist U.N.’s black-ops division, the Consultancy—and Olivia del Sarto, the archbishop of the morally ambiguous New Anglican Church. Anwar is dispatched from Malaysia to England to protect Olivia from a spookily rendered terrorist organization that has threatened to assassinate her during a U.N. summit on water rights. The obdurately analytical assassin’s attraction to the supposedly brilliant archbishop, rendered as a mess of heated fleshy appetites and coldly cutting mood swings, requires more suspension of disbelief than any of the futuristic elements. The inventive blending of religion, commerce, and government is impeded by talky, impassioned trysts, and while the action, when it arrives, is given appropriate flourish, scant satisfaction can be derived from the accompanying revelations, when for too long the story has been shouldered by characters whose underdeveloped connection remains incomprehensible. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Half-Resurrection Blues

Daniel José Older. Roc, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-0-425-27598-6

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Older’s debut novel, which launches the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, pits half-dead Carlos Delacruz, an agent for the New York Council for the Dead, against an ancient sorcerer. Carlos (familiar from stories in Older’s collection, Salsa Nocturna) is an inbetweener, “alive and dead at the same time,” with no memory of his past. He and other COD agents work to protect the mortal world and the land of the dead from each other. The task of removing some annoying imps gets complicated fast when Carlos learns that they herald the arrival of Sarco, a powerful spirit bent on destroying the barriers between the living and the Underworld. Carlos is a winning protagonist, with a murky past, troubled present, and smart, smart-ass narrative voice. Older’s magical New York City is fresh and richly envisioned, a gritty and genuine urban setting rife with strange forces and thoroughly enlivened by the fixers, dealers, and supernatural creatures who inhabit it. Fans of urban fantasy will greatly enjoy this entirely lively novel. Agent: Eddie Schneider, Jabberwocky Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Gideon

Alex Gordon. Harper Voyager, $14.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-168737-2

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In this impressive dark fantasy debut, witches are anything but cardboard embodiments of good and evil. They are modern, yet plagued by a 200-year-old curse; they are sometimes untrained and unaware, but still have incredible power flowing in their veins. Lauren Reardon thought she was a perfectly normal person, until her father’s death revealed her family connection to the witches from the tiny town of Gideon, Ill., who are tasked with keeping demons from entering this world. After John Reardon’s death, uncanny and frightening events start Lauren on a trip to find her roots, along with the power to combat an evil spirit that has terrorized Gideon since 1836. Crisp and shiveringly disturbing prose, a solid plot, and well-developed characters all make for a deeply satisfying read. Agent: Jennifer Jackson, Donald Maass Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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