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A Time of Change

Aim%C3%A9e and David Thurlo. Forge, $24.99 (336) ISBN 9780765324559

The Thurlos (Black Thunder) are unlikely to please either romance or suspense readers with this pedestrian endeavor. Josephine “Jo" Buck, an apprentice medicine woman in the Diné (Navajo) community of Farmington, N.M., values her relationship with her employer and father figure, Tom Stuart. When Tom is murdered in his home, Jo mourns him while trying to protect herself and the other Outpost staff from anonymous threats, armed men and robbery, and loss of business and revenue. Tom's son, Sgt. Ben Stuart, returns on military emergency leave to sort out the estate. This is further complicated by his past relationship with Jo, especially since Tom willed the Outpost to her. Some insights into the Diné culture and interesting supporting characters fail to enrich the book beyond its by-the-numbers romance and cardboard villains. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Obsession

Debra Webb. Grand Central/Forever, $3.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-4555-2765-6

Webb's first Faces of Evil romantic suspense novel introduces Jess Harris, a veteran FBI agent whose career is in jeopardy because of her mistakes in apprehending a serial killer. She welcomes an opportunity to investigate the disappearance of four young women in partnership with her former lover, Daniel Burnett, chief of police in Birmingham, Ala. Despite negative publicity over Jess's past failures and the case's slow progress, Jess and Dan work diligently with his investigators to comb through cell phone and computer records and connect the disappearances. The stakes are raised when another young woman vanishes. Interspersed with fine-tuned suspense is the undeniable attraction between Dan and Jess despite their long separation by time, distance, and other relationships. The mutual attraction is as gripping as Jess's determination to transcend the danger she faces and excel at her job. The cliffhanger conclusion will leave readers eagerly anticipating future installments. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Ramal Extraction: Cutter's War

Steve Perry. Ace, $7.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-0-425-25662-6

In this sharp first entry in the Cutter's War series by military SF specialist Perry, it's time for the mercenaries to earn their keep. Indira, daughter of the Rajah of New Mumbai on the planet Ramal, has been kidnapped from her own backyard. The crew of the Cutter Force Initiative—a motley mercenary operation run by Colonel R.A. “Rags" Cutter—is used to all manner of dangerous assignments, but this case seems unusually suspicious. Cutter, weaponsmith Gunny Sayeed, cybernetics whiz-kid Formentara, and the rest of the Initiative must apply their formidable and varied skills to find the abductor. Though the plot is a bit hackneyed and the characters fairly standard, Perry never fails to turn in a slick, well-written military SF story, and this title is no exception. Readers will look forward to the developments in the next installment. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Perfect Fit

Carly Phillips. Berkeley Sensation, $7.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-0-4252-5971-9

Bestseller Phillips's pleasant but rote contemporary romance launches a companion trilogy to her Serendipity series. Mike Marsden, who happily shook off Serendipity's dust for a law-enforcement career in a big city, reluctantly returns to fill in for the ailing police chief, Simon, who also happens to be Mike's adoptive father. Unfortunately, that also means having to work side-by-side with his unforgettable onetime lover, Officer Cara Hartley. After some chemistry-laden encounters, Cara and Mike agree to a no-strings affair that unsurprisingly leaves them both wanting more but afraid to commit. When Cara ends up investigating a 30-year-old cold case that involves Mike's long-absent biological father, they work together to uncover old family secrets, bumping down the road to their happy ending. Fans will enjoy following up on familiar characters, and there is power to the dramatic domestic violence subplot, but formulaic relationships and a clunky third-person narrative style weigh down an amiable but unexceptional story. Agents: Kimberly Witherspoon and David Forrer, InkWell Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ice Forged: Book One of the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga

Gail Z. Martin. Orbit, $15.99 trade paper (592p) ISBN 978-0-316-09358-3

Gallant young nobleman Blaine McFadden, convicted of murder and immured in Donderath's frigid penal colony of Velant, leads a revolt to escape the control of the homeland. With the “long dark" coming and Donderath conquered in war, derring-do and the need for independence are in the air. Unfortunately, conniving magicians have used the war to disrupt the traditional patterns of magic, and chaos looms. Martin uses these plot elements to paint an overcrowded mosaic, full of scarcely distinguishable characters discussing events to death with an inflated dialogue-to-action ratio. The interminable conversations may be setting the ground for a sequel, but their function of filling in background and foreshadowing developments soon leaves the reader longing for the mute heroics of Conan the Barbarian. The travails of Blaine provide a unifying if hackneyed thread: the exiled prince returning home. But unlike, say, Aragorn, he gains neither stature nor depth as events progress, merely developing a confusion of identity. Even feuding factions of vampires fail to enliven this dragging tale. Some vivid scenes and Blaine's indecisive quest fail to offset the ennui of endless, repetitious dialogue. Martin's first task in the sequel should be to dispatch a trusty hero, armed with a battle axe, to lop off conversation. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Luminous Chaos

Jean-Christophe Valtat. Melville House, $24.94 (528p) ISBN 978-1-61219-141-6

As this sequel to Aurorarama opens, revolutionary leader Brentford Orsini is rejected by a fickle electorate before being assigned a diplomatic post in Paris, far from his home in arctic New Venice. Not content with sending Orsini across the world, his rival mandates the use of the psychomotive, an unreliable and often lethal occult transportation device. Orsini and his companions are cast back in time from 1907 to 1895, before the founding of New Venice. Trapped in a Paris gripped by unprecedented cold and overrun with murderous xenophobes determined to purify their city at any cost, Orsini and his fellows will do well to survive, let along find their way back to their lost home. The dreamlike logic seduces the reader, leading from whimsy to bleak nightmares and back. Imbued with melancholy humor and an appreciation for the fantastic potential of the imagined past, Valtat's voice is strong and engaging, a promise of even better works to come. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dragon's Child

M.K. Hume. Atria, $16 trade paper (512p) ISBN 978-1-4767-1518-6

Arthurian scholar Hume blends historical details and Arthurian legends to create a scrupulously researched image of Arthur's Britain as it might have been: desperately threatened by Saxons, abandoned by Rome, and only tenuously united under a dangerous and half-mad king. As the kingdom of Uther Pendragon weakens, a new hope arrives for the people of the West in Artorex, the boy fated to become high king. Fostered to a Roman family, Artorex knows nothing of his parentage and would be content to live the life of a villa steward. But Myrddion Merlinus, a healer and scholar, has other plans, for he believes that only through Artorex's claim on the throne can Britain be saved. In a story no less fantastic for its lack of magic and its disavowing of the more mythical elements of Arthur's story, Hume uses the heart of those legends to reveal a truly human Arthur in a richly crafted and fully realized fifth-century setting. The two sequelsfollow closely on this installment's heels, and fans of Arthurian legend will be eager to see how Hume navigates Arthur's kingship. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Exodus Towers

Jason M. Hough. Del Rey, $9.99 mass market (544p) ISBN 978-0-345-53714-0

Hough's second Dire Earth Cycle SF thriller (following The Darwin Elevator) more than lives up to the promise of its predecessor. The alien Builders inflicted a deadly plague on Earth, along with technology—space elevators and movable towers—that provide immunity from the virus. Now a new human colony faces a number of crises, and looming above them all is the knowledge that the mysterious Builders are scheduled to return within two years. Dashing scavenger Skyler Luiken and beautiful scientist Tania Sharma race against the clock—though clocks are increasingly unreliable—to be ready for the encounter. Events speed up dizzyingly toward the end, and a subplot involving a dangerous cult is overly long. However, Hough knows how to hook his readers with action, intrigue, and sympathetic characters, and fans of the first book will be enthralled. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Hellfire

Jean Johnson. Ace, $7.99 mass market (480p) ISBN 978-0-425-25650-3

The third book in Johnson's Theirs Not to Reason Why series (after An Officer's Duty) continues the odd but enjoyable military science fiction tales of Ia, a human-alien hybrid whose precognitive talents allow her to plan hundreds of years in advance. Ia knows that she's unable to prevent the war between humans and the Salik, but she also knows that she can assemble the best possible team to win, even if her choices often leave her superiors baffled. Naturally, the handpicked crew of her starship includes eccentric personalities (sarcastic and tough Delia Helstead uses knives as hairpins) and develops unforeseen complications (Ia's ex-lover, Meyun Harper, is the ship's engineer). Ia's powers continue to present a narrative problem—being able to see every strand of every potential future makes her, if not infallible, at least so minimally fallible as to border on uninteresting—but Johnson's reluctance to dole out bits of Ia's knowledge in anything other than tiny morsels at least puts the reader in the same position as most of her troops: confident in the result, but uncertain of how it will be achieved. Some genre tropes weigh things down a bit, but fans should still have fun. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Cog

K. Ceres Wright. Dog Star, $14.95 trade paper (182p) ISBN 978-1-935738-43-5

Wright's uneven debut is set in a future where medical nanites patrol human bodies and consciousness transfer is on the horizon. The story opens with a bang: Perim Nestor, the bastard son of Geren Ryder, head honcho of corporate giant American Hologram, has just revealed himself to Ryder and his heir-apparent son, Wills. Ryder hires Nestor on the spot, but before you can say “Who shot JR?" Ryder suffers a mysterious ailment that leaves him comatose and Wills disappears among rumors of embezzlement. To the rescue rides Ryder's daughter, Nicholle, erstwhile drug addict and current art curator, who finds herself matching wits with Thia, a ruthless government operative. Wright moves the plot along nicely with occasional stumbles; scenes of extremely capable people engaging in high-stakes tactical negotiations come across as overly simplistic. Nicholle is a well-drawnheroine—although it's never made clear how she became adept enough at combat to hold her own against trained assassins and dangerous drug dealers—but most of the characters are two-dimensional, and Thia, whom Wright seemingly wants us to like, is too casually lethal to be endearing. (July)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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