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Bred to Kill

Franck Thilliez, trans. from the French by Mark Polizzotti. Viking, $27.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-670-02597-8

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French author Thilliez’s exceptional thriller, a sequel to 2012’s Syndrome E, poses a chilling question: what if a “violence gene” passed down from prehistoric man has concealed itself in human DNA and periodically churns out a serial killer or another person capable of extraordinary brutality? The action is again set in and around Paris, where doctoral researcher Eva Louts is found dead inside a gorilla cage at a primate research center. Homicide inspector Franck Sharko and former detective Lucie Henebelle—both haunted by past personal tragedies—quickly determine that Louts had recently been researching violent criminals who all had an identical set of characteristics: left-handedness, lactose intolerance, and a mother who died in childbirth. Also tied into the case are the recent theft of a 42,000-year-old Cro-Magnon mummy and the existence of a primitive jungle tribe that lives deep within Brazil’s Amazon region. Aside from the occasional genetics lecture that slows the action, this shines as a thought-provoking, brilliant piece of speculative fiction. Thilliez plumbs humanity’s dark side without relying on familiar conventions of plot and character. Agent: Aurélie Laure, Univers Poche. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Guestbook

Andrea Hurst. CreateSpace, $3.99 e-book (338p) ISBN 978-1-4781-6314-5

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This dramatic but lightweight contemporary romance begins Hurst’s Madrona Island trilogy with a pleasantly cozy atmosphere and a troubling narrative. When Lily Mitchell finds her affluent Los Angeles lifestyle crumbling along with her troubled marriage, she flees to fictional Madrona Island in the Pacific Northwest, where her late grandmother ran a well-loved bed and breakfast. Though Lily, a phenomenal cook and baker, initially struggles with self-doubt, she begins to carve out a niche on the island, selling baked goods, considering whether to reopen her grandmother’s business, and running hot and cold with her new beau, Ian. While occasional moments of skillful prose stand out—mostly descriptions of beckoning Puget Sound landscapes or tantalizing edibles—they aren’t enough to offset wooden characters and perplexing plot developments. Scenes from the perspectives of other characters, particularly Lily’s estranged husband, often add more confusion than clarity. Elements of Lily’s journey toward fulfillment are heartwarming, but fans of well-plotted romance will be disappointed. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Earl I Adore

Erin Knightley. Signet, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-0-451-46679-2

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Knightley’s delicious second Prelude to a Kiss Regency romance (after The Baron Next Door) returns to Somerset’s summer music festival, where love is always in the air. Sophie Wembley was enjoying the festival with her best friends right up until she heard about her sister’s elopement. Sophie now needs to get married before the news becomes public and her social standing plummets. She decides to throw propriety out the window and get John “Evan” Fairfax, the Earl of Evans­leigh, to fall in love with her. Evan is charmed by Sophie’s eternal optimism, no-regrets approach to life, and loyalty to her friends, but he’s vowed never to marry. The festival is the perfect backdrop as Sophie and Evan connect over their shared appreciation for opera and good music. Evan’s vow and his eventual liberation from it are sloppily handled, but the cast of supportive friends and family more than balance out the story’s flaws with humor, tenderness, and wisdom. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Trust No One

Jayne Ann Krentz. Putnam, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-399-16513-9

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The always reliable Krentz (River Road) pairs up a traumatized woman with a helpful millionaire in this solid romantic thriller. After Grace Elland’s boss, Sprague Witherspoon, doesn’t turn up for work, his worried staff deputizes her to visit his home, where she discovers his apparent suicide. Grace is saddened by the loss of the motivational guru and shaken by memories of a terrible experience when she was 16 and a murderer trapped her in a basement with his wife’s corpse. Her nightmares begin again when Sprague starts sending her emails from beyond the grave. Enter Julius Arkwright, a successful businessman who’s eager to help Grace any way he can: seduce her, fix her career, and help her figure out the link between Sprague’s death and the earlier killing. As he supports Grace, she helps keep him humble. Two appealing protagonists, a mysterious enemy, and a twisty plot provide all the necessary ingredients for a satisfying story. Agent: Steven Axelrod, Axelrod Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Crouching Tiger, Forbidden Vampire

Kerrelyn Sparks. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-210777-0

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Sparks (How to Seduce a Vampire (Without Really Trying)) brings the 16-book Love at Stake paranormal romance series to a deeply satisfying, delightfully swoon-inducing close. Russell Hankelburg’s last clear memories of his life before becoming a vampire were of the war in Vietnam. When he woke 39 years later with a slave mark on his wrist, it was to a new world devoid of everything he ever loved. His only mission became to kill Master Han, the vampire who created him. Then he runs afoul of a were-tiger with the exact same mission. Jia’s determined to kill the man who murdered her family, and she’ll stop at nothing to achieve her goal. As Russell and Jia team up, their relationship grows organically into a rich romance full of vulnerability and tenderness. The detailed story is filled with little callbacks to the earlier books, but first-time readers will have no trouble picking things up, while fans will want to go back and savor the entire series from the beginning. Agent: Michelle Grajkowski, 3 Seas Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Importance of Being Alice

Katie MacAlister. Signet, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-451-47137-6

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MacAlister’s first Ainslie Brothers contemporary is witty, charming, and erotically tender, although plagued with one subplot too many. Alice Wood’s aggravating fiancé, Patrick, dumps her right before a planned trip, and Alice bravely decides to go by herself. Unfortunately, she finds on arrival that she will not be alone on her romantic river cruise through Europe—Patrick gave away his ticket. Baron Elliott Ainslie, manager of his family’s estate, just wants a quiet place to write a book away from his 11 siblings, crumbling castle, and chaotic finances. But sharing a cabin and tour group with the vivacious and attractive Alice seems likely to distract him completely. MacAlister (You Slay Me) inexplicably throws in an espionage element that serves only to detract from the sparkling romance. Alice and Elliott are endearing, and the comedic potential of the situation is played to the hilt. This confection only rarely falls off the edge between silly and too silly; most of it is a treat. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Texas Mail Order Bride

Linda Broday. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0281-1

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Broday’s first Bachelors of Battle Creek historical, set in 1878 Texas, is packed with TV western clichés. Cooper Thorne and his two buddies formed a brotherhood bond during their childhood years at an orphanage. Now someone’s played Cooper for a fool and ordered him a bride. He quickly tells Delta Dandridge it’s all a mistake, but she’s escaping her own past and refuses to return to it. After she lands a job at the mercantile, she charms everyone in Battle Creek—including Cooper. The episodic story jolts from one melodramatic scenario to the next: someone infects Cooper’s cattle with a deadly disease, a man beats his pregnant wife, and Cooper and Delta abruptly go from standoffish to smoochy. There’s little real history underpinning the story, and much of the sparse character development goes toward setting up Cooper’s brothers to be protagonists of future installments. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Dictatorship of the Dress

Jessica Topper. Berkley Sensation, $15 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-425-27625-9

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In this riveting and pitch-perfect contemporary, first in the Much “I Do” About Nothing series, Laney Hudson learns that appearances can be deceiving and that love can come when least expected. Beautiful but insecure Laney must transport her mother’s wedding gown to Hawaii and has been given strict instructions not to let it out of her sight. Assumed to be the bride, she is upgraded to first class and seated next to a good-looking but rigid “tech boy” who is then mistaken for her groom. When their connecting flights are canceled and the airline staff reserves the last hotel room for the “couple,” Noah and Laney go with it. As they slowly reveal aspects of their lives to each other, a gradual buildup of attraction and appreciation creates a palpable and dynamic tension. Topper develops Laney and Noah as individuals through their recollections of significant events in their lives; Laney’s struggles with the baggage of her past and Noah’s battles to make the right decisions in his are chronicled with an honesty and charm that is heartwarming and spellbinding. Topper’s tale of loss and love is a winner. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Little Love

Amanda Prowse. Head of Zeus (www.headofzeus.com), $12.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-781-85498-3

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In the fifth No Greater Love contemporary, Prowse (Clover’s Child) introduces a nontraditional heroine, Pru Plum, the 66-year-old co-owner of London’s successful Plum Patisserie. Spinster cousins Pru and Milly planned and struggled for decades before they saved up enough to open their bakery. Pru has also been a surrogate mother for her dead brother’s daughter, Bobby. At Bobby’s engagement party to charming William, Pru meets William’s uncle, MP Christopher Heritage, and is instantly smitten. As their relationship begins, tragedy strikes, and fate introduces a devastated Pru to a needy, pregnant young woman. Pru, wanting to pay forward some of the kindness that others have shown her, reaches out to the woman and takes her in. The romance takes a backseat to Pru grappling with some hard truths and learning to trust herself. The bakery tips sprinkled around the story are interesting, but they feel mostly like padding. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Unidentified Funny Objects 3

Edited by Alex Shvartsman. UFO, $15.99 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-0-9884328-4-0

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Science fiction often takes itself seriously, addressing social issues or trying to predict the future, but Shvartsman’s anthology series proves that humorous SF can work just as well, especially when it skewers the genre’s own clichés. In James Miller’s “The Right Answer,” a down-on-his-luck man has a chance to access alien technology, but first he has to pass a test. Jody Lynn Nye pairs a pregnant detective with a symbiotic alien in “Infinite Drive.” Karen Haber’s “That Must Be Them Now” depicts aliens awaiting the arrival of a new species. In nonalien news, Jeremy Butler uses gene testing to help people find their place in society in “The Full Lazenby,” while James Beamon offers a young android assistant to a nursing home resident in “The Discounted Seniors.” Out-and-out jokes make very few appearances; these tales could be standard SF, but they look at their ideas with a humorous twist, bringing a smile, if not a laugh, to the reader. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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