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Archie in the Crosshairs: A Nero Wolfe Mystery

Robert Goldsborough. Mysteriouspress.com (Open Road, dist.), $14.99 trade paper (228p) ISBN 978-1-4976-9041-7

At the start of Shamus Award finalist Goldsborough's first-rate 10th Nero Wolfe pastiche (after 2014's Murder in the Ball Park), Wolfe's leg man, Archie Goodwin, is returning home to his boss's West 35th Street Manhattan brownstone when someone shoots at him twice. Archie avoids injury, but the next morning, a man calls Wolfe to tell him that Archie will die soon. The detectives review past cases to determine who might bear such a homicidal grudge, including the relatives of men they sent to prison or to execution. Meanwhile, with their bank balance in bad shape, Archie persuades Wolfe to take on the case of a young heiress who's being blackmailed over an indiscretion that could endanger her engagement. Goldsborough cleverly captures the tone and language of the originals. Rex Stout fans can only hope he has no plans to wind up the series soon. Agent: Erik Simon, Martha Kaplan Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Twice Blessed: Two Amish Christmas Stories

Barbara Cameron. Abingdon, $14.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-63088-111-5

Cameron’s newest features two sets of twins, each caught in love’s angst as the holidays approach. “Her Sister’s Shadow” follows Katie and Rosie Stoltzfus. Rosie, often in Katie’s shadow, fears she’ll become an old maid until handsome Jacob comes calling. Will she be able to become her own woman apart from her twin? “His Brother’s Keeper” introduces Mark and Ben Fisher, two very different men who both love kind-hearted Ruth. A terrible accident puts one brother in a coma and leaves the other recovering with Ruth’s help, but will the truth of their identities ruin everything? The premise of each story is sound, but the writing often feels perfunctory, and some aspects of the two stories are nearly indistinguishable. Still, those looking for a nice Christmas read should enjoy these tales. Agent: Mary Sue Seymour, Seymour Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Christmas Is for Bad Girls

Edited by M.M. Ardagna and Lily Callahan. Elm (Ingram, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-941614-05-1

No actual bad girls inhabit this happy holiday anthology—just feisty, sympathetic heroines, and heroes worthy of their love. Four stories are set in the present-day U.S., and two in Victorian England. Danger makes sexual tension run high in P.K. Tournes’s “A Partridge in Pear Treacle.” Love brightens a depressing holiday season in M.M. Ardagna’s “A Very Chunky Monkey Christmas” and a dreaded trip home in Lily Callahan’s “A Sprig of Holly.” In Yvette Franklin’s “Noisy Night,” single mom-to-be Maizy goes into labor on Christmas Eve, aided by her handsome gardener. In Jess Alynn’s “Mistletoe in Minnesota,” Emily inherits her aunt’s house and falls for the boy next door. A long wait ends with yuletide gladness when a long-lost cousin returns in Edith Elton’s “The Mad Hewitts.” Fans of quick, sweet holiday romance stories will savor this fine anthology. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Snowflake Bay

Donna Kauffman. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (344p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3747-7

In Kaufmann’s festive but poorly paced second Brides of Blueberry Cove romp (after Sea Glass Sunrise), long-delayed love blooms at last. Ben Campbell always fancied Hannah McCrae, but she’s about to marry someone else. When Hannah’s younger sister, Fiona, returns to Blueberry Cove, Maine, for Hannah’s holiday nuptials, she realizes that her longtime crush on Ben has matured to womanly desire; Ben is astonished that the bratty kid sister is now a gorgeous woman. Trying not to taint their long-standing friendship, and doubting that Fiona’s overprotective brother will accept the romance, Fiona and Ben carefully test the strength of their new relationship. Unfortunately their shift from buddies to lovers is too abrupt and barely explained, and much rumbling about a feud involving Hannah’s groom-to-be never amounts to anything. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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An Endless Christmas

Cynthia Ruchti. Worthy Inspired, $15.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-61795-587-7

Ruchti delivers an emotional tale that embodies all the grace and giving that fans of Christmas stories love. Katie Vale agrees to spend Christmas with her boyfriend, Micah Binder, but when he surprises her with a proposal, she cannot agree to give him her hand. With no way to get out of spending the holiday with his family, who celebrate every Christmas like it is their last, Katie has an unforgettable time. The Binders are larger than life, which delivers an abundance of heartwarming scenes. Unfortu­nately, they often eclipse Katie. There are many scenes in which Katie is a spectator in the Binder family Christmas and not really a part of the story. Ruchti does a fantastic job creating a large cast of characters and makes each one feel distinct. Katie, however, comes across as a windowpane for the reader to watch the family’s Christmas—an impression that’s heightened by a number of disruptive point-of-view changes to secondary characters. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Christmas for One

Amanda Prowse. Head of Zeus (Trafalgar Sq., dist.), $13.95 ISBN 978-1-78185-656-7

Prowse’s unsatisfying fifth No Greater Love contemporary (after A Little Love) pulls romance out of the ashes. Meg Hope’s life has shattered more than once. She spent childhood bouncing between foster homes; in early adulthood, her fiancé died in an accident, leaving her pregnant. Now Meg and her four-year-old live above the London bakery Meg works in, and the owners have taken her in as a near daughter. Meeting American architect Edward Kelly sparks a fairy tale romance, but after so much rejection and loss, Meg has difficulty believing in fairy tales. Prowse spins gorgeous details of food and culture on two continents, but inconsistent characterization and an obnoxious leading man drain this Christmas confection of its tasty flavor. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Christmas Cradle

Charlotte Hubbard. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3311-0

Hubbard’s steady and somewhat predictable sixth Seasons of the Heart romance (after Harvest of Blessings) contrasts two very different couples in the insular Amish community of Willow Ridge, Mo. Miriam and Ben Hooley, who courted and married in Autumn Winds, are expecting a baby—their Christmas miracle—when a winter storm brings a squabbling young couple to their door. Lena and Josiah, unmarried and expecting their own child, are frightened and anxious, desperately searching for a fresh start. They present challenges and new insights for Ben and Miriam, who work to heal the pair’s relationship while keeping them away from wicked ex-bishop Hiram Knepp, the series villain. Familiar faces from previous books provide a comfortable, warm continuity. Agent: Evan Marshall, Evan Marshall Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Bad Boy for Christmas

Jessica Lemmon. Grand Central/Forever, $5.99 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-4555-5810-0

Lemmon’s sexy and well-constructed third Second Chance romance (after Rescuing the Bad Boy), set in the small town of Evergreen Cove, Ohio, uses a nice reversal: the man (who is not at all a bad boy) wants marriage and the woman is commitment-shy. Faith Garrett swore off romance after her fiancé cheated on her. So no matter how attractive Conner McClain is, she insists that they limit themselves to flirting. But as Christmas moves closer, she’s drawn to the scarred military veteran, who has relationship demons of his own. Their interplay works well, as jokes lead to kisses and then to sex scenes that are steamy but not raunchy. Though the Christmas theme takes a little while to show up, it plays an important role, and the story peaks with a dramatic snowed-in Christmas encounter. Likable and realistic characters with believable emotions, and the right balance of fantasy fulfillment, make for some good holiday heat. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymour Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Chance Christmas Ball

Mary Jo Putney et al. Kensington, $15 (320p) ISBN 978-1-61773-923-1

Eight romance authors (collectively known as the Word Wenches) walk into a Regency-era ballroom and wreak fabulous, shimmering holiday mischief all over the place. The Dowager Countess of Holbourne is hosting an extravagant Christmas ball, and the guest list includes some of the loveliest, loneliest people in high society. The best of the stories woven around this premise are Joanna Bourne’s “My True Love Hath My Heart,” in which a little larceny spices a long-smoldering romance; Susan King’s “A Scottish Carol,” wherein snowbound lovers never quite make it to the ball; and a maiden’s romantic rescue from a young ladies’ seminary in Anne Gracie’s “Mistletoe Kisses.” The characters are smart and attractive—so much so that it can be hard to believe the ball is their only chance to find love—and their stories are delicious and appealing. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Snowbound at Christmas

Debbie Mason. Grand Central/Forever, $5.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4555-8803-9

Mason’s heartfelt fifth contemporary set in Christmas, Colo. (after Wedding Bells in Christmas) is a laugh-out-loud treat. Ex-cop Cat O’Connor’s life is not going well. The FBI suspect that she was part of her ex-boyfriend’s Ponzi scheme, and she’s stuck being the personal assistant to her pampered soap-opera starlet sister. After Cat’s sister dodges several on-set accidents that might be attempts to kill her, Grayson Alexander joins the cast. He and Cat are intensely attracted to each other—but he’s an FBI agent, she’s his number-one suspect, and a romance would endanger them both. Readers will chortle over the Christmastime antics of the spoiled sister, overprotective mother, meddling grandmother, loyal friends, and jealous castmates. Agent: Pamela Harty, Knight Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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