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Wicked Temptation

Zo%C3%AB Archer. St. Martin's Paperbacks, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-01561-7

Archer's third Nemesis, Unlimited romance (after Dangerous Seduction) is a well-spun tale of a late 19th-century woman's worldly awakening against the backdrop of an international struggle for justice. Widow Bronwyn Parrish is left destitute when her husband's London estate is drained to pay supposed debts that she never knew existed. Senior Nemesis agent Marco Black, more accustomed to helping members of the downtrodden lower class, is skeptical about aiding this former high society lady but agrees to help recover her stolen money. Bronwyn learns just how sheltered and privileged her life has been when the hunt for the thief leads the pair across the channel to France's most notorious criminal organizations. Impressed by Bronwyn's bravery as they sneak onto trains, run from assassins, and break into houses, Marco discovers that she is more than just another clueless aristocrat, drawing him into a much closer relationship than he expects or is ready for. Smart writing and well-drawn characters elevate this novel beyond the typical historical romance. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Six

Edited by Ellen Datlow. Night Shade, $15.99 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-1-59780-503-2

Fans of both subtle horror and explicit gore will find something to enjoy in this uneven anthology of 24 stories. Unsurprisingly, the best work comes from some very familiar names. In "Down to a Sunless Sea," Neil Gaiman demonstrates that less is more, presenting a devastating narrative in just three pages. Kim Newman's "The Only Ending We Have" imagines what could have happened to Janet Leigh's body double in Psycho when her life ends up paralleling that of Marion Crane's. In contrast, Simon Clark's "The Tin House," about a house built by profiteers from the slave trade, is predictable, an attribute that is the antithesis of terror. Datlow deserves credit for eschewing the clichéd staples of the genre, but that choice does not automatically translate into a memorable collection. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Shattered

Kevin Hearne. Del Rey, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-345-54848-1

The thing about binding yourself with iron to help keep angry fey off you is that it tends to annoy them even more. Druid and action hero Atticus O'Sullivan seems to have a knack for annoying fey, and a few odd gods and goddesses as well. In this fast moving, kick-ass seventh Iron Druid Chronicles installment (following 2013's Hunted), Atticus is running from a very peeved Loki, while Fand of the Tuatha Dé Danann definitely doesn't like the iron binding. Now that Atticus's apprentice, Granuaile, and his recently reawakened Archdruid are helping him, it appears that the immortals are picking sides. The question is, will those who back Atticus outnumber those who'd like to see him pulverized? Hearne brings plenty of action and entertainment as the intrepid druids hop from Colorado to Japan to Tír na nÓg, rounding up their partisans in preparation for an upcoming epic battle. Agent: Evan Goldfried, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Robogenesis

Daniel H. Wilson. Doubleday, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-385-53709-4

In this sequel to Wilson's high-tech near-future thriller Robopocalypse, the artificially intelligent Archos R-14, supposedly defeated, lives on. It has released robotic parasites that change humans into cyborgs in preparation for a new war against its ancestor, Archos R-8. Meanwhile another AI, Alpha Zero, has settled into the U.S. military installation at Cheyenne Mountain, determined to create a world where humanoids can live free on their own terms. Wilson populates a fairly familiar post-apocalyptic landscape with sly refugees and weary soldiers whose newly augmented skeletons and senses are turning them into "walking weapon[s]" in a chaotic war that will decide the fate of intelligence and humanity on Earth. This Hollywood-ready techno-thriller is packed to the brim with enough tough characters and brutal conflict to satisfy the most hardcore video gamers and action movie fans. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Deep Like the River

Tim Waggoner. Dark Regions, $12.95 trade paper (66p) ISBN 978-1-62641-063-3

Waggoner (The Way of All Flesh) crafts a disturbing picture of a woman haunted by guilt in this taut novella. Alie Jordan is invited by her sister, Carin, to join a canoe trip in southern Ohio on what would have been the first birthday of Alie's dead daughter, Marie. From the opening page, it's clear that the outing won't be the relaxing break from the day's pain that Carin intended. As the siblings paddle down the river, Alie hears a baby's cry. Upon investigating, she finds an abandoned female infant and hears an alarming creaking and metallic sound along the river banks. When they find no sign of the parents, the sisters take the infant with them to find help. Along the way, they encounter a series of horrifying creatures, and the truth about Marie's death is revealed. Waggoner's evocative prose and subtle revelations provide genuine chills. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Way to Babylon

Paul Kearney. Solaris, $7.99 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-781-08189-1

Exquisite prose meets paint-by-numbers fantasy in this reissue of Kearney's 1992 novel. Newly widowed author Michael Riven finds himself drawn into the world he created, and learns that only by saving that world can he save himself. If the premise is unassuming, Kearney largely pulls it off with aplomb thanks to his lush rendering of the novel's geography, from the Isle of Skye to the fantasy world created by Riven's imagination. Characterization is Kearney's downfall. The characters are archetypes, not people, and the few female characters are idealized creatures whose only role is to appeal to or repulse Riven. Additionally, while Riven accepts his new reality a little too easily, the reader can't. The scenes set in our world have a vivid cruelty that the rest of the novel lacks, making it impossible to truly believe he has stumbled into a wish-fulfillment universe. Ultimately, the reader is left with the sense of a strong narrative voice telling the wrong story. (May)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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In the Black

Sheryl Nantus. Carina, $2.99 e-book (244p) ISBN 978-1-42689-835-8

An awkward mash-up between a murder mystery and a lukewarm romance establishes the spacefaring, politically corrupt setting for Nantus's Tales from the Edge series. Overqualified Capt. Samantha Keller babysits the Bonnie Belle, a Mercy ship carrying courtesans to isolated mining bases. She revisits old feelings of both determination and guilt when one of her charges is murdered on the ship and she must fight with a Guild that would rather see business remain as usual than see justice served. Marshal Daniel LeClair, called in to catch the killer, discovers that Sam's competence makes her both a difficult colleague and an appealing potential conquest. Sam sees Daniel as a possible release after six months of frustration, since working on a sex ship revs her up but she doesn't want the awkwardness or cost of utilizing the courtesans' services. Nantus (Blaze of Glory) bogs down the mechanical plot with generic space setting, stereotypical characters, and romantic leads who are willing to blandly and sensibly wait for passion until the work is done. (May)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Flying

Megan Hart. Mira, $14.95 trade paperback (384p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1622-0

In this nontraditional emotional romance, Hart (Dirty) writes more of sorrow than love. Stella Cooper uses her access to free airline tickets to roam airport bars, pursuing her private life of finding one-night stands free of identities, feelings, and repercussions. Stella is a remarkable character: a divorced mother struggling with the challenges of a teenaged son, a troublesome ex, and the pain that she carries from a past that brought her to a cold, isolated present. Hopeless and unwilling to ask for help, Stella attacks herself and everyone around her with an unforgiving attitude. Her escapist habit leads her to Chicago, where she meets Matthew, who can help heal her pain, but though there is the suggestion of hope in the resolution, little is done by Stella to earn such a prize. She receives far more understanding and forgiveness than she offers the world, and her story is wrenching but unsatisfying. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Pilgrims

Will Elliott. Tor, $26.99 Hardcover (448p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3188-5

Elliott kicks off his Pendulum Trilogy in this less-than-gripping fantasy. Eric Albright, a journalist specializing in overly-emotional reports of lost pets, notices a red door in an underpass, and when his curiosity leads him to force it open, he finds himself in another world, Levaal. Complete with mages and other magical beings, the realm is 500 years past "the War That Tore the World," and the reporter finds himself pitted against its tyrannical ruler. Elliott offers incoherent explanations for basic questions like how Albright is able to communicate with Levaal's residents. Efforts to make Albright sound hip fall flat; his social icebreaker technique of retelling Batman stories is labored. Rapid shifts in tone leave the reader's head spinning: a few pages after a character clowns around with fearsome creatures, there's a grim rape scene. The half-hearted world-building, and dull lead and plot, won't convince many readers to line up for the second volume. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Wedding by Dawn

Alison DeLaine. HQN, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-373-77868-3

DeLaine (A Gentleman 'Til Midnight) returns to Georgian England in this fast-paced historical. Lady India Sinclair was born with adventure in her soul, but her uptight father is determined to marry her off to someone who will change her "hoydenish" ways. Nicholas Warre will stop at nothing to save his beloved family estate, so after Lady India's father offers him £50,000 to track down and marry his wayward daughter, Nicholas jumps at the chance. India leads her intended on a merry chase to the altar, but in the end, does she want to get caught? Both Nicholas and India are shouldering secrets they believe will make them unlovable, and DeLaine's heartfelt characterizations make the reader ache right along with the characters. Despite an all-too-convenient plot twist, this engaging tale satisfies and ends with the promise of sequels. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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