As digital-first and ebook-only publishing have expanded, the range of choices for Best E-Originals has expanded as well. Back in 2011, it was all romance. Not that romance isn’t wonderful to read, but the universe of ebook-only and ebook-mostly then was still pretty small. What a change from then to now. With the rise of digital-only imprints from traditional publishers added to the indie and self-pub offerings, the world of e-originals is wide open.—Marlene Harris, Reading Reality, Atlanta
Baxter, Lily. Poppy’s War: A Novel of Love in a Time of War. Avon Impulse. ebk. ISBN 9780062412126. $2.99. HISTORICAL FICTION
Poppy’s war is World War II, and Poppy begins as one of the millions of English civilians, especially children, evacuated out of London’s East End at the beginning of the Blitz. An East Ender taken in by a wealthy Dorset family at 13, Poppy finds herself neither upstairs nor downstairs in a world in which those divisions are falling as surely as the bombs over London. As she grows from child to young woman, she becomes the mainstay of a family that alternately uses and pets her, while she falls in love with the son of the house. This story is terrific for the way that Poppy stands outside the social order and observes the social changes even as she chooses to set them aside. The gentle romance is perfect for the period and the characters. [Xpress Reviews, 4/3/15]
Bujold, Lois McMaster. Penric’s Demon. Spectrum Literary Agency. (World of the Five Gods, Bk. 3.5). $3.99. FANTASY
In Penric’s Demon, Bujold returns to her beloved “World of the Five Gods” series with a story of a young man’s coming of age and a chaos agent’s plan to rescue (or curse) him. Penric thinks he’s going to have a conventional life as a younger son, forever under the thumb of his family—and he’s okay with that. When an elderly priestess arranges to meet him on the road, he finds himself the custodian of her “demon” and an only slightly forced disciple of the chaos god Lord Bastard, “the master of all disasters out of season.” In this visit to Bujold’s “Chalion” series, Penric discovers that just because his adventure is out of his family’s season, it is not a disaster for him. A great way to introduce new readers to Bujold’s fantastic “Chalion” stories, and for those who already love them, a marvelous trip back to a beloved world.
Christoff, Nichole. The Kill Box. Alibi: Random. (Jamie Sinclair, Bk. 3). ebk. ISBN 9781101883020. $2.99. THRILLER
The Kill Box, published by Random House’s digital-only Alibi imprint, is the third book in the author’s series featuring security consultant and private investigator Jamie Sinclair, whose father is not just a retired army general but also a sitting U.S. senator. The glimpses into Jamie’s life, and her current relationship with dear old dad explain the number of issues with which she must contend. Here, Jamie is forced to deal with someone else’s past when the man she might love heads back to his hometown and seems to revert to the person he was back then. When crimes in the present become linked to a long-ago miscarriage of justice, Jamie finds herself in the middle of two cases, one involving a serial rapist gone mad and a drug deal gone wrong. An edge-of-the-seat thriller that doesn’t let up until the very last page.
Connolly, Harry. A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark. Radar Avenue. $3.99. URBAN FANTASY
In spite of urban fantasy’s undoubted origins in the mystery genre (where older sleuths abound), Connolly discovered that urban fantasy heroines are invariably of the kicking ass and taking names school, which also put them under 30. He rectified that here, with protagonist Marley Jacobs. Marley clearly used to be one of those “strong” heroines, but now, nearly 60, she has become a witch who wages peace instead of war. Not that waging peace can’t be even more difficult than staking vampires, but it takes more subtle power to manage it successfully. In what this reader sincerely hopes is the start of a series, Marley wages her sharp brand of peace in order to keep a very recognizable contemporary Seattle safe from the things that go bump in the night and also keep those very same “things” safe in her city. Until she discovers that someone is disturbing the dragon living in Puget Sound.
Green, Laurie A. Inherit the Stars: The Complete Novel. Array. ebk. ISBN 9780062412126. $4.99. SF ROMANCE
Inherit the Stars is a completely absorbing sf novel of the “plucky Rebels vs. the evil Empire” variety, with some fascinating twists, e.g., a heart-stopping and panty-melting sexy romance. But while the romance provides some of the heart and depth, it’s the way that the good guys take out the bad guys (for loose definitions of “good,” “bad,” and even “guys”) that will leave readers pondering long after the book is finished. An escaped slave smuggles himself aboard a prototype spaceship and finds himself thrust into the middle of that rebel alliance and falling in love with the ship’s captain, who is much more than she appears to be. As is he. As the pair’s relationship deepens, the reader finds out just how bad bad can get and how much it will take for the ends to justify some pretty awful but absolutely necessary means. For fans of thought-provoking sf, especially the kind with galaxy-altering consequences and heartrending sacrifices.
Hackett, Anna. Return to Dark Earth. Anna Hackett. (Phoenix Adventures, Bk. 7). $3.99. SF ROMANCE
Where Inherit the Stars owes a bit of its plot to Star Wars, Return and the author’s entire “Phoenix” series have their origins on the Indiana Jones side of the house. In this final entry in the series, one astroarchaeologist and one unrepentant treasure hunter find themselves on a voyage with the powers-that-be in this universe for a once-in-a-lifetime expedition to the ruined planet of human origin, Earth. While Niklas Phoenix and his archrival Nera Darc have generally found themselves on opposite sides, they are forced to join forces as the Institute of Historical Preservation seems to be out to eliminate them both, just as soon as the expedition has pillaged everything not nailed down from a postnuclear-apocalyptic Earth. On this Earth gone dark, Niklas and Nera find twisted survivors, noble savages, and zombies. The surprise ending, complete with strong commentary about cultural misappropriation that finally bites the bad guys in their raping and pillaging keisters, makes a fantastic conclusion to the series.
McDermott, D.L. Blade Dance. Pocket Star. (Cold Iron, Bk. 4). ebk. ISBN 9781501106460. $4.99. PARANORMAL ROMANCE
This surprisingly captivating myth-crossed paranormal romance/urban fantasy series features a war between the dangerous and trickster fae and their druid nemeses, fighting in and over the south side of contemporary Boston. Over the centuries, the fae have embedded themselves in places where Irish immigrants dominate the population. What better place to conceal a huge family of Celtic fae than in the midst of people who still put out milk for the fairies? But the 21st century and its web of surveillance are changing how the fae hide in plain sight, as their traditional ways bring the attention of outsiders, particularly in the schools. Idealistic teacher Ann Phillips marches into the heart of the Fianna warband to get their leader’s attention to child abuse going on right under his nose. Finn MacUmhaill finds himself captivated by the feisty teacher and forced to see that the 21st century has brought changes to his world that he not only wants but needs to embrace if he is to protect his people—and Ann. One of the wonderful things about this title is that despite the extreme power imbalance, Ann finds that she truly is the immortal Finn’s equal and makes him recognize that an equal is just what he needs for the war ahead.
McDowell, Blair. Romantic Road. Wild Rose. $4.99. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE
A young widow travels the Romantische Strasse through Germany, searching for all the women her older husband loved and left before he finally married her. Now that Igor Telchev is dead, someone is stalking Lacy to discover what secrets the former operative for the International Criminal Court buried during his long and successful career hunting down international bad guys. Lacy thinks that she is doing one last thing for the man she adored. Chased across Europe and assisted by Igor’s friend Max, she finally realizes that Igor is really doing one final thing for her—if it doesn’t get her killed first. This story is a race to the finish as Lacy (and Max) crisscross Germany in an attempt to uncover Igor’s last and greatest secret. The slow-building romance between Lacy and Max adds poignancy to this suspenseful story of a woman who seeks closure but finds much more than she ever imagined.
Singer, P.D. Otter Chaos. Rocky Ridge. $4.99. M/M PARANORMAL ROMANCE
Aspiring professor Corey Levigne and his boyfriend Lon Ewing have just bought a house and are still pretty much in the blissful stage of their romance. But there is one thing about this couple that leads to all sorts of adventures and a whole lot of trouble. Lon, by day a fairly mild-mannered loan officer at a local bank, is an otter-shifter. Every weekend, Lon “puts his fur on” and turns into an otter for an hour or so. It’s not a secret to Corey, but as an otter-shifter, Lon provides Corey with an intro into a slightly different world, especially when Lon lets Corey know that his department chair at the university, the man who controls whether Corey gets tenure, is a werewolf. In fact, Melvin and his pack want a loan from Lon’s bank to build a werewolf sanctuary in the protected area outside Boulder. And that’s where things go sideways, as the werewolf preserve encroaches on a protected species habitat, and the werewolves refuse to take “no” for an answer. This book is a great way for readers who want to explore male/male romance to dip into the genre. Issues with Lon and Corey as a same-sex couple take a backseat to the real problems caused by them being a human/shifter couple.
Singh, Nalini. Rock Hard. TKA Distribution. (Rock Kiss, Bk. 2). ebk. ISBN 9781942356059. $4.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Rock Hard and Singh’s entire “Rock Kiss” series are a terrific way to discover just what makes rock star romances so much fun. The Schoolboy Choir is a hot rock band that works hard and plays for keeps. While most of the series shows the band members finding their happily ever afters, Rock Hard also plays with the administrative assistant and wealthy boss trope in a way that works. Charlotte Baird and Molly Fox, the heroine of Rock Addiction, are besties. Charlotte is also a scared mouse, and her boss Gabriel Bishop is a predator who will use her up the way he has all his previous admins. Except that Charlotte wants very badly to do a good job, and the only way that will happen is if she stands up to Gabriel, for his own good. The romance is all about the mouse discovering her inner predator and the man who discovers that bullying through life is not the way to find love—it’s not even good business. Gabriel and Charlotte should not have anything in common, but then they dig down deep and discover that they do.
Robb, Candace. The Guilt of Innocents. (Owen Archer, Bk. 9).
Robb, Candace. A Vigil of Spies. (Owen Archer, Bk. 10).
ea. vol: Diversion. $2.99. HISTORICAL MYSTERY
One of the great things about the ebook publishing revolution is that it provides opportunities for authors to rerelease their backlists and for books to become available that otherwise would never return from “out-of-print” purgatory. Robb’s “Owen Archer” books comprise a marvelous historical mystery series with a romantic suspense subplot. Archer, as an agent for the Crown in the mid-1300s, comes to York to investigate a possible murder. When Nicholas Winton dies, Owen naturally suspects Winton’s wife, Lucy. (Murder investigations haven’t changed much in some ways: the spouse is always the first suspect.) As Owen looks into the case, Lucy assists him with her knowledge as an apothecary. In true romantic suspense fashion, Owen clears Lucy and falls in love with her. The series continues with Owen’s investigations of other crimes in York, and he and Lucy eventually marry. But the series stopped making its way to the United States from England after Book 8, leaving the last two titles unavailable in the United States—until now. The series was published in ebook format here in 2015 in its entirety, including those last two books. The “Owen Archer” series is a treat for historical fiction and historical mystery readers.