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Autumn Spring

Shelley Thrasher. Bold Strokes (boldstrokesbooks.com), $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-62639-365-3

After a somewhat choppy opening, Thrasher’s unique and exquisite take on romance in a small town offers a new and welcome perspective on mature relationships. Bree Principal fled a failed relationship with Ann White, her East Texas hometown’s golden girl, and never looked back. Little did she know that Ann’s little sister, Linda Morton, had been harboring some tender feelings of her own. Fifty years later, Bree’s world changes when her mother’s injury pulls her back to the place where she grew up—and back under Ann’s spell. Only now, Linda’s out, proud, and willing to fight for the woman she wants. The focus on the empowerment of older women serves to underscore both the charm of life at a slower pace and the sweetness of new relationships. Readers will find it deeply refreshing to see female characters who are defined as much by their kindness and grace as by their chosen roles in life. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Taking the Heat

Victoria Dahl. HQN, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-373-77970-3

Dahl (Flirting with Disaster) breaks little new ground in this thin story of a 27-year-old woman’s sexual awakening. After failing to make it in the Big Apple, Veronica Chandler returned to Jackson, Wyo., where she gives relationship advice, much of it explicitly sexual, in her “Dear Veronica” column. She carefully hides her own lack of sexual experience. Her deep-seated feelings of unworthiness and undesirability—stemming from her horrible parents and verbally abusive stepbrother—only change after she meets Gabe MacKenzie, an outdoors-loving, rock-climbing librarian who has allotted himself a year of happiness in Wyoming before taking over his family’s restaurant empire in New York City. The two fall in love and share lots of hot sex and dirty talk, but Gabe hides his future plans until the book’s final third. As the fallout falls out, the story finally turns meaningful, but it is too little too late. Agent: Amy Moore-Benson, AMB Literary Management. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Side Effects

VK Powell. Bold Strokes (boldstrokesbooks.com), $16.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-62639-364-6

Powell (To Protect and Serve) tells a touching contemporary tale of two wounded souls hoping to find lasting love and redemption together. After threats are made against North Carolina physician Neela Sahjani, who’s performing research on stem cells, police detective Jordan Bishop is called in for protective duty. Jordan, who was abused and grew up in an orphanage, finds it nearly impossible to allow people to get close to her—until Neela and her understanding mother, Bina, burrow through Jordan’s defenses. Neela herself is lonely and feeling adrift after a new governor takes office and threatens her research, dimming her hopes of curing her mother’s rheumatoid arthritis. As threats against Neela escalate, Jordan and Neela start to wonder whether they’ll live long enough to find their happy ending. Powell ably plots a plausible and suspenseful story, leading readers to fall in love with the characters she’s created. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Make You Burn

Megan Crane. Loveswept, $2.99 e-book (217p) ISBN 978-1-101-88467-6

Launching a biker-themed contemporary series, Crane piles on the passion and danger while skimping on story. Sean “Ajax” Harding returns to his hometown of New Orleans when the death of Priest Lombard, president of the motorcycle called the Deacons of Bourbon Street, releases him from 10 years of exile. Sophie Lombard, Priest’s daughter and a Southern spitfire, is looking for reckless ways to cope with her grief. Sophie and Ajax’s reunion is instantly erotic, and they soon ignore the demands of planning the funeral and corralling the Deacons in favor of sexual escapades. Crane focuses on the erotic, sketching in characters and events without much detail. The plot is quickly abandoned, presumably to be resumed in future volumes. The narrative voice leaps from one character to another, leading to confusion as the point of view shifts. But all of this may be forgiven, as the sex scenes more than make up for the weakness of composition. While there is no resolution to speak of, this tough and dirty world is fascinating and satisfying in its own way. Agent: Holly Root, Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Facing Fire

HelenKay Dimon. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-233009-3

The third Bad Boys Undercover romantic thriller (after Falling Hard) lures readers into a dangerous world. Josiah King, one of the elite operatives of the black-ops group called the Alliance, is determined to avenge the brutal murder of his uncle, and he regrets not killing the man known as Benton when he last encountered him in Pakistan. Sutton Dahl, a Baltimore PI, is also tracking the same man, known to her as Ryan Bane; he killed her mother. When Sutton steals a file from Bane while in Paris, she piques the interest of the Alliance, and Josiah breaks into her apartment and threatens her. But when she comes under fire from Bane, Josiah ends up being her rescuer. After Sutton proves that she can be an asset to the Alliance, she and Josiah distract themselves from their fears of death by jumping into bed. Nail-biting suspense and steamy romance are the mainstays of this novel, as the protagonists must discover whether their attraction stems from deeper emotions. Agent: Laura Bradford, Laura Bradford Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Down in the Valley

Jane Shoup. Kensington/Zebra, $6.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3709-5

Shoup’s Green Valley series launch blends bitter and sweet in a sobering look at two honorable people who have been victimized. In 1881 Virginia, Emeline Wright is in college and in love, but her wealthy beau turns out to be a predator who kidnaps her. After a daring escape, Emeline makes her way back to her family’s ranch; in her absence, the small town has transitioned into a thriving, populous mining mecca. Soon her uncle dies, leaving Emeline alone, impoverished, and vulnerable. When a man attacks Emeline, town newcomer Tommy Medlin intervenes. Emeline seizes the opportunity to protect herself and save her farm by offering Tommy a business partnership. Their hard work provides solvency, while love helps them heal from a collective history of beatings, bullying, and sexual assaults (which are described but never lingered over in a lurid or gratuitous way). Shoup moves assuredly through trauma, family discord, and romantic misunderstandings to capture lovely bits of Americana and a bygone way of life. Agent: Kimberly Cameron, Kimberly Cameron and Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Rough Road

Vanessa North. Riptide (riptidepublishing.com), $4.99 e-book (164p) ISBN 978-1-62649-298-1

North’s latest contemporary romance is smooth and sexy, though the titular road is indeed rough. Edward Russell is a self-described “sassy old queen” (age 44) who crashes his Mercedes S-Class and then falls for the handsome road worker who pulls him from the wreck. Aloysius “Wish” Carver is nearly half his age and earns maybe a 10th of Edward’s income, working two jobs just to make ends meet, but he finds no roadblocks when it comes to getting Edward—or S-Class, as Wish calls him—into bed. The two are perfect bedfellows until Edward and his moneyed friends decide to oppose a road-building project that Wish is counting on to provide jobs for him and his buddies; the tension takes a toll on the budding romance between Edward and Wish. In spite of a slightly implausible happy ending, North’s lighthearted yarn has just the right balance of plot and character development to frame the main attraction: sizzling sex scenes. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Heat Exchange

Shannon Stacey. Carina, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-0-373-00278-8

Stacey (Under the Lights) opens the Boston Fire contemporary series with a sexy, funny escapade. Lydia Kincaid’s father, brother, brother-in-law, and ex-husband are firefighters. She escaped to New Hampshire for a while, but during a family crisis, she comes home to Boston to help run her family’s pub and runs squarely into gorgeous trouble. Firefighter Aidan Hunt has always wanted Lydia, but there’s a big problem: her brother is his best friend, her father is his mentor, and the tough-guy firefighter code puts her strictly off-limits to him. At first, the two sneak around, reluctant to expose their budding relationship to anyone else. But when it becomes public knowledge, Lydia and Aidan are faced with a choice: run from what scares them, or take a chance on a life together. Stacey’s gift for writing easily relatable characters will hook readers and leave them eagerly waiting for the next installment. (July)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Brave the Heat

Sara Humphreys. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-4022-9367-2

The first McGuire Brothers contemporary boasts suspense that burns as hot as the love scenes. It’s been 15 years since Jordan McKenna left Old Brookfield, N.Y., right after high school graduation. Gavin McGuire, who’s now the town’s fire chief, was dating her then and still isn’t over her. From his perspective, she just disappeared; he has no idea that Jordan ran off to New York City to become an actress and escape her abusive father. Unable to find success, she married a wealthy man who turned out to be another abuser. Hoping to save her daughters, she leaves him and brings the girls back to Old Brookfield. As soon as Gavin sees Jordan, he rushes to propose that they restart their relationship—a move quite at odds with his otherwise sensible attitude—and she calmly declines, determined to show her girls she’s able to stand on her own. But when an arsonist strikes the town, Jordan and Gavin end up working together to find the culprit while fanning their own embers of attraction into passion. This crafty romance, with its spirited characters, will leave readers anticipating the sequel. Agent: Jeanne Forte Dube, Forte Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Mythborn II: Bane of the Warforged

Vijay Lakshman. Vijay Lakshman, $24.99 trade paper (625p) ISBN 978-0-9850620-2-6

This sprawling adventure from writer and software designer Lakshman continues the saga of Arek Winterthorn begun in Mythborn: Rise of the Adepts. Arek, his mentors Silbane Petracles and Kisan Talaris, nobles Yetteje Tir and Niall Galadine, and soldier Ash Rillaran race through their mundane world of Edyn and the magical world of Arcadia. Their goal is to save Edyn from the machinations of the demon Lilyth, archmage Valarius Galadine, and a force known as Sovereign, all of whom have plans for Arek and his dark power. The plot is inventive, but the world is filled in mainly by a cliché pub scene and an implausible semidemocratic system surrounded by cod-medieval monarchies. The characters change motivations easily, and the magical entities, drawn from several different mythologies, seem arbitrarily chosen and carry no cultural background or context. New readers will struggle with the story’s sheer complexity. This epic has a well-crafted plot but lacks the deeper characterization and background details needed for emotional investment. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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