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The First Kiss

Grace Burrowes. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4022-7887-7

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In the slow-going second Sweetest Kisses contemporary (after A Single Kiss), single mom Vera Waltham, a famous pianist, gets a new chance at love. When Vera meets James Knightley, her divorce attorney’s good-looking brother, she tries to keep a safe distance from his charms. Two marriages that left much to be desired have undermined Vera’s confidence, and a recent slew of anonymous threats is keeping her on edge. Although James is bewitched by her beauty, it’s hard to understand why he falls head over heels for her so quickly, especially since she continues to rebuff him. As James comes to the rescue time and again when Vera calls, a staid and somewhat strange relationship builds; Vera keeps things strictly platonic, while James, until now the hottest “booty call of the year,” meekly waits for her advances. All the characters engage in nonstop picture-perfect behavior: constant meals cooked from scratch, textbook dialogue, and unreal family dynamics. This installment falls far short of its charming predecessor. Agent: Steve Axelrod, Axelrod Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Ace’s Wild

Sarah McCarty. HQN, $7.99 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-0-373-77830-0

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McCarty’s entertaining seventh Hell’s Eight historical (after Caden’s Vow) sizzles with sensuality in 1860s Texas. Petunia Wayfield is the one and only schoolteacher of Simple, Tex. She can’t resist the charms of local gambler Ace Parker, and their constant sparring quickly becomes more like verbal foreplay. Ace is happy to flirt with the virginal schoolmarm. When Petunia falls into a catatonic state, only Ace’s caress can bring her back, and the connection goes both ways: despite Pet’s innocence, her simple touch affects Ace more than the practiced hand of the most jaded courtesan. Soon the ne’er-do-well is starting to think about settling down, though he thinks he’s not good enough for sweet Pet. While not rich with historical details, this fast-paced novel will appeal to those who appreciate graphic, tender sex scenes. Agent: Roberta Brown, Roberta Brown Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Marriage Charm

Linda Lael Miller. HQN, $7.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-0-373-77892-8

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Picking up where The Marriage Pact left off, Miller provides a lukewarm contemporary romance, Western style. Wyoming’s Mustang Creek is resplendent with cowboys, or at least men in 10-gallon hats, but jewelry designer Melody Nolan only has eyes for one: playboy police chief Spence Hogan. Spence and Melody have history together, and not all of it good. His love ’em and leave ’em reputation sends Melody running in the opposite direction. But he can’t forget her good-girl charm. Their nine years of mutual avoidance end when a robbery and a secret pact throw them back together. Contrived circumstances and overly involved internal dialogue overshadow quirky secondary characters in a pleasant smalltown setting, and disjointed plot elements detract from sweet dialogue and lovingly detailed scenery. Agent: Irene Goodman, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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How to Kiss a Cowboy

Joanne Kennedy. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (480p) ISBN 978-1-4022-8369-7

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The rough-and-tumble world of the Wyoming rodeo circuit is brought vividly to life in Kennedy’s memorable second Cowboys of Decker Ranch contemporary (after How to Handle a Cowboy). Suze Carlyle is a champion barrel rider in Wyoming who has had eyes for cowboy Brady Caine since she was a teenager, but she considers herself too smart just to become another notch on his belt. When the two wind up in bed together anyway, they both try to pretend it was nothing but a one-night stand, and they both know better. After an accident injures Suze and threatens to derail her career, Brady stays by her side, his callous attitude slowly developing into thoughtfulness and sensitivity. Kennedy imbues the setting with intense realism, and readers will love her intensely complex characters and depictions of deep emotion. Agent: Elaine English, Elaine P. English Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Right Here Waiting

K.E. Belledonne. Interlude, $15.99 trade paper (220p) ISBN 978-1-941530-22-1

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Debut author Belledonne’s adorably guileless heart candy takes place in a cheerful alternate version of WWII-era America where being gay requires a little discretion but is generally received by friends and family as a quirky secret. Peter Montgomery heads to war, leaving Ben Williams to run a tailoring business and sing for the troops in New York City. They miss each other desperately, and never have a fight; Ben waits eagerly for sappy letters, while Pete uses the hope of seeing his love again to motivate himself to swim to safety after his plane is shot down. Cinematic meet-cute flashbacks fill in their history together. The military detail is vague but not jarringly inaccurate, with the war acting as a setting rather than providing plot. The real story is an old-school one of a grand love and a whole community that comes together to support it, with a happy ending that gives the reader a moment of escapist grace. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Viper Game

Christine Feehan. Jove, $7.99 mass market (448p) ISBN 978-0-515-15554-9

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Feehan’s 11th GhostWalkers paranormal (after Samurai Game) suffers from the advances of both science and fiction. When the series began in 2003, the notion of genetically enhanced soldiers was reasonably innovative. Now the premise is worn, as is the idea of a biochemical mandate for romance. GhostWalker Wyatt Fontenot swore to avoid all women save his beloved grand-mère. Then Pepper came into his life, alone with the toddler she fiercely protects. Like him, they have enhancements; his are feline, theirs are phylum. Pepper was trained to ensnare men and kill them with her bite. Deemed a reject and slated for execution, she escaped a hidden prison with one of three children. Rescuing the others becomes Wyatt’s priority when he realizes the babies are his and Pepper’s artificially concocted offspring. Feehan tells the reader about Pepper’s strength, but she often reads as a victim who feels ashamed and burdensome. The constant lustiness starts out as erotic but soon grows ho-hum. Agent: Steve Axelrod, Axelrod Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Three Fates of Ryan Love

Erin Quinn. Pocket, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4767-2749-3

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Ryan Love’s life hangs in the balance when a strange woman pops in to save the day in this lusterless sequel to The Five Deaths of Roxanne Love. Bar owner Ryan is intrigued by gorgeous, confused Sabelle, despite her ludicrous claim that his apartment and business are about to disintegrate in an epic explosion. After her prediction comes true, he gets more open-minded. Crashing at his sister’s place for the night, he and Sabelle get it on in a too-early love scene lacking any emotional connection. Sabelle is a seer from the Beyond, a parallel universe teeming with demons, reapers, and fates who can make humans do terrible things. She believes she has been sent to Ryan’s dimension not only to rescue him but to save her own kind. The truth shifts her from architect of her own story to pawn of destiny in a heartbeat. Improbable insta-love between alpha jerk Ryan and ditzy Sabelle leads to a neatly constructed ending that satisfies despite the unbelievable character actions. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Companion Contract

Solace Ames. Carina, $3.99 e-book (169p) ISBN 978-1-4268-9952-2

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Twosomes, threesomes, bondage, a little S&M: porn actress Serena Sakamoto, aka Amy Mendoza, has done it all. In less capable hands her characterization as a tough-on-the-outside insecure young woman might be clichéd, but Ames (The Submission Gift) pulls off a genuinely complex portrayal with ease. When Amy crashes a Hollywood party to rescue a helpless friend, she meets Emanuel, the lead guitarist in one of her favorite bands. He recognizes her from her films and offers her a dream job. All she has to do is be a sober friend and sex plaything for Miles, the band’s floundering lead singer, and she’ll be generously compensated—enough to get out of the porn business. When Amy learns that Emanuel once broke Miles’s heart, she realizes the job is going to be a little more complicated than it sounded, and to make things worse, she’s falling for the wrong guy. Ames strikes an excellent balance of rock-and-roll zaniness, California kitsch, and sensational sex scenes. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Dream Crystals of Gandara

Charlotte McGary and Sharon Faiola-Petersen. CreateSpace, $13.95 trade paper (556p) ISBN 978-1-4993-6154-4

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Debut novelists McGary and Faiola-Peterson craft a promising secondary-world fantasy novel to open the Gandaran Trilogy. Gandara’s legendary peace comes from fragile crystals that give comfort to those who use them. When Zanoah, son of Gandara’s ruler, learns that the crystals may have a more sinister purpose, the balance of power is shattered, and Zanoah’s foppish cousin Fort steps in to take control. The feudal society and barren world are well constructed, and the authors make excellent use of tight plotting and side characters. Unfortunately, women are often sidelined and caricatured as fretful mothers, ardent romantic interests (such as Anlee, who falls in love with both Zanoah and Fort), or damsels in distress. Things end a bit too neatly, but this page-turner is solidly enjoyable, if not quite a sparkling gem. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Pacific Fire

Greg van Eekhout. Tor, $24.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7653-2856-4

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The faltering second Daniel Blackland urban fantasy (after California Bones), set in an alternate L.A. where magic is powered by the region’s abundant bones and fossils, opens with exciting and tense scenes of sorcery and code-breaking, but as the plot thickens, the story sinks. Daniel, a powerful osteomancer, killed the Hierarch of Los Angeles and took possession of the Hierarch’s clone-golem, Sam. Ten years later, the morally ambiguous Gabriel Argent, now chief water mage, allies with bone sorcerer Sister Tooth and crime lord Otis to form a triumvirate that rules over Los Angeles. Otis plans to resurrect a Pacific firedrake, but he needs a vast source of osteomantic power—such as Sam. When Daniel is incapacitated, Sam teams up with another golem, Em, to stop the evildoers. In an attempt to build tension, van Eekhout repeatedly changes the rules of the dragon’s resurrection, along with almost every other plot point. All-too-convenient occurrences, questionable character motivations, and other inconsistencies undermine the rich and amazing setting. Agent: Caitlin Blasdell, Liza Dawson Associates. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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