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Untouchable Lover

Rosalie Redd. Rosalie Redd, $3.99 e-book (401p) ISBN 978-1-944419-00-4

This clunky debut begins the Worlds of Lemuria: Earth Colony series by placing a stereotypical variety of near-human species in a poorly articulated fantasy setting clearly inspired by role-playing games. Redd wraps the story in the vague context of interstellar colonization: Zedron and Alora, competing gods from the planet Lemuria, have sent these species to Earth to act as pawns in a contest to determine whether the Lemurians will take the precious water of Earth by negotiation or force. King Noeh of Alora’s beast-hearted Stihaya saves vampiric Melissa from the leader of Zedron’s reptilian Gossum and feline Panthera. Noeh protects Melissa in his underground keep, as she is sought by the Panthera leader and is also the target of the universal male attention that comes from being the only fertile female Lemurian in hundreds of years. But the gods’ insistence that Noeh break his childhood vow and take a queen before the next new moon leads him to pursue her himself. Four more species mentioned but not appearing in the Earthside setting telegraph future volumes of the series, but readers have little reason to want to continue beyond this stodgy opener. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Blood Bond: A Vampire Menage Romance

Alicia Rayn. Amazon Digital Services, , $2.99 ASIN B010Y6TAZA

Rayn (Black-Winged Tuesday) layers a sexy surface over some deep emotional questions in this time-travel vampire romance. When 21st-century Vegas singer Roxana Collins is transported back to Regency-era London by vampire Darren Highmore, she pretty quickly decides that it sucks—literally. Roxana has to learn to negotiate the social mores and economic realities of the time as well as her powerful attraction to Darren. Their delicious chemistry takes off when they discover the natural alliance between Roxana’s self-injury fetish and Darren’s need to feed on human blood. But even as Roxana learns to share her darker sexual nature with Darren, she falls for the innocent Phillip Branham, the aristocratic and indebted piano player who reluctantly accompanies Roxana’s scandalous nightly performances in a London gentleman’s club. Roxana is caught between two unsatisfying options: returning to a hollow life in her own time, or remaining in a society where she can have love and passion but no freedom. This tension suffuses her touching and cautious sexual exploration with Phillip and her ecstatic experiences with Darren. The story is funny where appropriate, intense where necessary, and full of heart throughout. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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No Breaking My Heart

Kate Angell. Kensington, $9.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-0366-8

Angell’s latest sports romance (after No One like You) is a letdown, with inconsistent characterization and a flimsy story. The Richmond Rogues is a baseball team whose players are all very popular with the ladies, and none more so than handsome Halo Todd, who has lovers up and down the East Coast. When he’s accosted by Alyn Jayne, who’s dressed as a chicken (though she doesn’t seem the type to do that at all) and agitatedly begs him to join her on a game show, Halo’s kind heart forces him to agree, though the gig makes him late leaving Richmond for spring training. Soon he’s captivated by modest, serious Alyn and her mother and brother. The family accompanies Halo to the Florida boardwalk town of Barefoot William, where Alyn’s little brother, Danny, gets to hang out with his baseball idols and Halo tries to show wary Alyn that he can be faithful to one woman. The push and pull of their attraction creates some appealing moments. Angell’s latest entry contains more baseball, but the descriptions of the play are not very convincing, and the players keep adopting dogs with no mention of what will happen to them when the team goes on the road. But her fans will enjoy the familiar setting and cameos by previous characters in the series, and the supporting cast is delightful. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Duke to Remember

Kelly Bowen. Forever, $5.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6337-1

In her second Season for Scandal novel (after Duke of My Heart), Bowen once again sets up one of her fabulous Regency-era women in such unusual circumstances that it’s no wonder the eponymous duke finds her irresistible. To keep order in London’s high society, mysterious Elise deVries and her professional cohorts at Chegarre & Associates specialize in smoothing over scandals, both petty and major. They end up on a wild goose chase when they’re contracted to locate Noah Ellery, the Duke of Ashland. He may be dead, he may be estranged from his mother, or he may be alive now but slated for death by his feckless cousin Francis, who has his eye on the dukedom. In one of Bowen’s signature diverting happenstances, Elise stumbles on the errant duke hiding away on a farm and employs all her wit and charm to convince him that he should reunite with his family. He’s not as keen on that as he is on uniting with her in a very carnal way. This merry-go-round, emphasis on merry, is guaranteed to charm Regency fans. Agent: Stefanie Lieberman, Janklow & Nesbit. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Right Kind of Trouble

Shiloh Walker. St. Martin’s, , $7.99 ISBN 978-1-250-06796-8

Walker returns to the small Southern town of McKay’s Treasure, Miss., to conclude her McKays trilogy (after The Trouble with Temptation) with a well-written mix of terror, passion, and intricate plotting. Gideon Marshall has loved Moira McKay since they were teenagers, but Moira’s parents were killed in a car accident after Moira and her mother had a fight, and Moira is still convinced that she doesn’t deserve to be happy. Gideon’s just about to finally give up on her, but first he wants to find out who’s behind the escalating attacks on the McKays, which have left several people dead. When Moira is assaulted on her own property, it soon becomes clear that the culprit may be someone she knows. It’s easy to ache for Moira, and equally easy to want to shake some sense into her for throwing love away with both hands. Walker creates a gruff and believable character in Gideon and a fast-paced plot that will keep readers guessing until the end. She delivers the grand revelation with a surprise twist (and a somewhat gory finale). Readers will be sorry that this is the last visit, at least for the foreseeable future, to McKay’s Treasure. Agent: Miriam Kriss, Irene Goodman Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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In a Right State

Ben Ellis. Ben Ellis, $10.99 trade paper (316p) ISBN 978-1-84914-563-3

Ellis’s debut romp through an unnerving dystopia uses common fears about big corporations to paint an eerie but plausible future. Duncan, recently widowed, is a small-time gardener with a big secret: he has been producing non-genetically-modified produce for years, which is unacceptable to the all-powerful Pharmara Corporation. Amy, a corporate cog gone rogue in the Pharmara machine, must track him down. Both are under watch by Pharmara Security, who are bent on removing them at any cost. Ellis writes with a keen eye for detail, and his prose wittily exposes the threats of this new world where nothing is private. His characters are ripe with personality; interspersed with the humor is a fast-paced, character-driven plot. Although it treads some familiar ground, Ellis’s work is a fresh response to the growing concern about big corporations, privacy, and the ever-watchful eye of the government. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Highway to Hell

Max Brallier. Gallery, $16 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-4767-6567-9

Brallier’s second choose-your-own-zombie-adventure book (after 2011’s Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse?) delivers solidly on its concept. An imprisoned former U.S. soldier who now calls himself Jimmy El Camino is offered his freedom if he carries out a secret mission in a world that has been laid waste by a plague of the walking dead. But before Jimmy can learn the details, he must agree to a test by participating in the Death Derby. Each of the reader’s choices leads down a different path (e.g., “If you want to unload, giving the zombie rhinoceros everything you have, turn to page...”). The various possible endings aren’t always pleasant, which isn’t surprising given the book’s premise. Brallier tosses in some light touches, as when Jimmy ends up in a Spam-themed museum; despite the requisite gore, the structure makes it hard for him to create a sense of terror. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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High Stakes

Edited by George R.R. Martin, assisted by Melinda M. Snodgrass. Tor, $27.99 (560p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3562-3

This exhilarating 23rd collaborative novel in the Wild Cards series features the contributions of assistant editor Snodgrass, David Anthony Durham, Stephen Leigh, John Jos. Miller, Caroline Spector, and Ian Tregillis. This version of Earth is populated by superpowered characters who are diverse in age, race, gender, and ethics. Yet this world is eminently recognizable, even for readers new to Wild Cards. Some people are “aces” with incomparable powers; others are “jokers,” considered debilitated or disfigured by their transformations. The sadistic Baba Yaga pitted jokers against one another for her own entertainment, and many cannot forgive her for it. But a mysterious monster of untold power is drawing them all toward chaotic devastation, and Baba Yaga, who’s now dying, may hold the secret to containing it. As a vast number of characters attempt to figure out what’s going on and going wrong, they make some unexpected discoveries and learn that Earth’s only hope must come from a most unlikely place. This is a wild ride of good, blood-pumping fun that packs a surprisingly emotional punch for a book that looks on the surface like just another superhero adventure. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Ghost Talkers

Mary Robinette Kowal. Tor, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7825-5

In this entrancing alternate history, Kowal (the Glamourist Histories series) introduces the Spirit Corps, a group that communicates with recently killed soldiers to gather important wartime information. It’s the summer of 1916, and American medium Ginger Stuyvesant works with the British Army at Le Havre to coordinate and lead spirit circles. When her intelligence officer fiancé, Capt. Benjamin Harford, uncovers a German plot to target the Spirit Corps and is sent to the front soon after, Ginger must use every power at her disposal to track down a traitor and protect the corps. Kowal’s depiction of spiritualism is richly imagined, and its complications and consequences are thoughtfully considered. Her depiction of the Western Front includes diverse characters often neglected in wartime stories: the many people who help Ginger include women young and old, people of color, and disabled veterans, all of whom are dismissed by the British men in charge. The well-drawn characters and the story’s gripping action and deep emotion will captivate readers. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Invasive

Chuck Wendig. Harper Voyager, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-235157-9

Wendig (the Miriam Black series) pits a government agent with a survivalist background against killer ants in Hawaii in his latest novel, expanding the setting of his previous thriller, Zer0es. Futurist Hannah Stander is an FBI consultant whose job is to identify security threats likely to rise from new technology. After her boss summons her to investigate a mysterious death caused by a genetically modified species of ant in a cabin in central New York State, the investigation swiftly switches to a laboratory in Hawaii run by a charismatic yet mysterious billionaire. Hannah and the lab’s staff are soon fighting for their lives, caught up in an ecoterrorist plot to save Earth by destroying humankind with the voracious ants. Given the entomological focus, it’s surprising that Hawaii’s numerous insects—and their natural predators—don’t play more of a role. With this cinematic thriller’s unusual setting, cinematic horror imagery, twisty plot, and grittily determined protagonist, fans of Michael Crichton will feel right at home. Agent: Stacia Decker, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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