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Bound by Sin

Jacquelyn Frank. Ballantine, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-553-39343-9

As Frank embarks on the third Immortal Brothers novel (after Cursed by Ice), she comes no closer to settling on a genre for the series. The plots, dialogue, and style are decidedly adolescent, but the numerous steamy love scenes are definitely R-rated, with this installment in particular bordering on X. As punishment for crossing Weysa, the goddess of conflict, brothers Garreth, Dethan, Jaykun, and Maxum were sentenced to eternal torment. The brothers are bound to fight in Weysa's wars in exchange for brief reprieves from their curse. Jaykun endures a 24-hour cycle of burning from the inside out and then being restored to perfect health, only to burn again. After one of his nightly ordeals, he encounters a beguiling naked woman named Jileana. The mysterious Jileana entices Jaykun to squeeze every ounce of joy from the hours of each day he isn't burning, but their relationship is all formulaic folderol with smoldering benefits. This unsatisfying story falls sadly flat. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Against a Brightening Sky

Jaime Lee Moyer. Tor, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3184-7

Murder, ghosts, magical mayhem, and Bolshevik-era Russia combine in the impressive and entertaining conclusion of Moyer's supernatural mystery series (after A Barricade in Hell). Series star Delia and her husband, police captain Gabe Ryan, attend a St. Patrick's Day parade in 1919 San Francisco, where all hell breaks loose as snipers begin shooting into the crowd. Gabe and Delia aren't seriously injured, but they end up helping a young woman, Alina, who has little memory of her past. A series of murders has Gabe looking to labor union leader Dominic Mullaney and his lieutenant, Aleksei Nureyev, for answers. Delia, always attuned to the spirit world, sees the image of a young woman who may be connected to Alina, and also tries to help Gabe find the serial killer. Moyer brilliantly brings the setting to life, with fascinating details that bolster the historical verisimilitude. Strong characterizations are the icing on this entertaining blend of genres. Agent: Tamar Rydzinski, Laura Dail Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Flirting with Fire

Kate Meader. Pocket, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8590-5

Meader (the Hot in the Kitchen series) provides a strong start to her Hot in Chicago contemporary romance series. Kinsey Taylor, who handles PR outreach for the Mayor of Chicago, is trying to spin fireman Luke Almeida's image. Luke was caught on video in a fistfight with a policeman and is the new designated public proof of institutional insubordination; the Mayor is up for re-election and doesn't need a scandal. But Kinsey, armed with charity calendar shoots and community block party plans, finds Luke almost too stubborn to work with. A large and eclectic cast of side characters and a charmingly real-feeling Chicago provide lightness and fun. Sadly, the central couple never feel fully three-dimensional, and their romance has a few too many plot-required bumps in it. The setup for eventual future books in the series is more interesting than the central situation. Still, Meader's general writing skill and good humor go a long way. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Odds: A Post-Apocalyptic Action-Comedy

Robert J. Peterson. California Coldblood, $15.95 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-0-9960319-0-5

Peterson's debut novel crams wads of cliché into a few hundred pages. An unimaginable catastrophe, the deadblast, has horribly altered Earth's weather and left the survivors with uncertain memories of earlier civilization. Some "lucky" people barely exist in the cavern city of Dedrick, hiding from the insanely self-mutating dreens and the equally threatening cyborg psychoskags; they distract themselves by betting on all kinds of sporting events, so society is run by the Odds, glorified bookmakers. Then biker Eldridge rides into town, betting on his own death and anxious to take part in a tournament that involves human chess pieces in mortal combat. None of this fits together into a coherent whole, but the setting works as excuse for exuberant, ultraviolent action. Unfortunately, when a story starts out over-the-top, there's not much room for development, and it's hard to see how Eldridge could continue his adventures without becoming boring. Readers with a taste for grotesque zaniness may enjoy this venture. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Figures of Fear

Graham Masterton. Severn, $28.95 hardback (208p), ISBN 978-0-7278-8446-6

Masterton (Festival of Fear), a stalwart of horror fiction, writes with an easy assurance that makes even the weaker stories in this collection tolerable. The shorter tales are often predictable, with "gotcha" twists: "Ex-Voto" explains the wisdom of listening to spooky native artisans; in "What the Dark Does," fear of objects in the night proves well founded; and there's a whiff of victim-blaming in "The Battered Wife." Writerly craft meets with a raw and occasionally elegiac imagination in longer stories. In "Saint Brónach's Shrift," a man relives the nightmarish event that is the source of his happiness and is offered a solution both sacrificial and improbable. "Spirits of the Age" is a Henry James–flavored ghost story, light on scares and heavy on atmosphere. In "The Night Hider" a woman is haunted by a burnt horror inhabiting a wardrobe that has more than a passing relationship to a children's classic, and "Underbed" is a work of fantastic and terrible invention, as a boy finds the worlds buried beneath his bedclothes. Despite a few near-misses, this collection is a must for Masterson fans. Agent: Wiescka Masterton Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Thorn of Dentonhill

Marshall Ryan Maresca. DAW, $7.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-0-7564-1026-1

Vigilante justice meets magical mayhem in this lively fantasy series debut. Veranix Calbert leads a double life: by day he's a student of magic at the prestigious University of Maradaine, but at night, he becomes the Thorn, an avenger taking on dealers of the dangerous drug effitte—a drug that destroyed his family. When Veranix accidentally captures a sack full of magical artifacts bound for a shady group of powerful mages, he stirs up far more trouble than he ever expected. The story moves briskly, and Maresca's characters are well-rounded and believable. Maradaine is a fabulous city brimming with possibilities, with its streets filled with students and professors, street gangs, mages, merchants, and regular folk. Fans of tricky capers and intrigue will enjoy this colorful series opener. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Genome

Sergei Lukyanenko, trans. from the Russian by Liv Bliss. Open Road (openroadmedia.com), $14.99 trade paper (496p) ISBN 978-1-4976-4396-3

Lukyanenko (the Night Watch series) neatly crafts a sophisticated SF thriller featuring Alex Romanov, a spesh, or a person who has been altered to be superhuman. After recovering from a horrific accident, Alex accepts a job as the captain of the spacecraft Mirror. He's responsible for ensuring the safe passage of his alien compatriots on their tour of the known galaxy. Alex's life is further complicated by the murderous intent of his fellow crewmembers, as well as his romantic entanglement with a much younger spesh, Kim. The prose is introspective and inventive, and the story plumbs tricky philosophical questions, such as what it means to be human and how humanness can be altered in the future. The plot moves along at a fast pace, with an appealing at and at times humorous voice. Lukyanenko's tendency toward the preachy is amplified by the translation. This solid work of SF fits into, but does not transcend, its genre. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Symbiont

Mira Grant. Orbit, $26 (608) ISBN 978-0-316-21899-3

This cerebral and visceral sequel to Parasite pits the sentient tapeworm who has taken on the body and identity of dead Sally Mitchell against the rapacious profit motives of Dr. Steven Banks, founder of SymboGen, the organization that originally genetically modified the tapeworms. He keeps Sally's sister Tansy chained up for experimental purposes and pursues both Sally and his former ally, Dr. Shanti Cale, who now seeks to undo the results of their collaboration. Sally's boyfriend wants marriage despite her zombielike status; adversary tapeworm Dr. Sherman Lewis kidnaps Sally to enlist her in his plot for tapeworms to seize world supremacy from humans. Soon San Francisco is quarantined and society is collapsing nationwide. Cale's profession of love for all her children, regardless of their species, adds a piquancy that elevates this series above the standard zombie genre, as does the tension between love and duty felt by Col. Alfred Mitchell, Sally's father. Grant allows the moral debate to slow the story's movement following the meeting of Banks and Cale, but the richness of the plot sustains the reader's interest in how the characters will negotiate this strange new world. Agent: Diana Fox, Fox Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Starlight on Willow Lake

Susan Wiggs. Mira, $24.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1795-1

Wiggs ensnares readers with her marvelous 11th Lakeshore Chronicles contemporary (after Candlelight Christmas). Single mom Faith McCallum is trying to make ends meet for herself and her two daughters, Ruby and Cara, in Avalon, a small town in the Catskill Mountains of New York. She is grateful for her good fortune when she gains employment as an in-home caretaker for Alice Bellamy, a widow who became a quadriplegicin a skiing accident that claimed the life of her husband. Though Alice is very bitter about her disability and lashes out at others, Faith is unafraid to stand up to her and help her to learn how to live happily again. And Faith is surprised by her attraction to Mason, Alice's wealthy son, despite the differences in their backgrounds and socioeconomic status. While Faith has always struggled financially, Mason enjoyed a privileged youth and much success after stepping into the family business as an adult. The most riveting aspect of this feel-good novel is the attraction between Faith and Mason, which leads to a gradual and unforgettable romance. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Friction

Sandra Brown. Grand Central, $26 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4555-8116-0

Bestseller Brown's highly recognizable brand of romantic suspense is on full display as the fates of rugged Texas Ranger Crawford Hunt and Judge Holly Spencer collide in the courtroom, in the bedroom, and in a desperate attempt to save reputations and lives. Crawford's hearing before Holly is to seek custody of his five-year-old daughter, Georgia, who's currently living with her late mother's parents, Grace and Joe Gilroy. A gunman interrupts the hearing at the Prentiss County Courthouse in Prentiss, Tex., by firing wildly, killing a bailiff. Crawford shields Holly and turns the attack into a chase that leads to the rooftop, where a sniper kills the gunman. In the aftermath, Joe warns Crawford that his "grandstanding" at the courthouse threatens his chances of winning custody, and Holly fears an enemy of hers will use the courthouse tragedy to discredit her. Things get worse for them both, complicated by their growing attraction to each other. Crawfordtries to protect Holly from those out to ruin her, but he's trapped by Sgt. Neal Lester, a senior detective, and Joe, who files a restraining order against him. Brown (Mean Streak) expertly ratchets up passion and danger as Crawford fights for his life, his daughter, and his new love. Agent: Maria Carvainis, Maria Carvainis Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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