Xpress Reviews: E-Originals | First Look at New Books, September 6, 2013

Week ending September 6, 2013

Cooper, Karina. The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway. Carina: Harlequin. (St. Croix Chronicles, Bk. 0.5). 2013. 85p. ebk. ISBN 9781426896224. $1.99. STEAMPUNK ROMANCE
This “mysterious case” is the prequel to Cooper’s “St. Croix” series and as such it offers a teasing glimpse into the origins and backstory of heroine Cherry St. Croix before she became the only female “collector” in this steampunk London. Cherry’s origin story is both a rollicking adventure in its own right and a peek into a steampunk world filled with stranger delights and darker depths than the surface the author touches on in the introductory tale (Tarnished). Cherry’s story of riches-to-rags-to-riches is classic. Rich child orphaned and lost to the underworld, trained as a thief, she is discovered by a family of lawyers, though it’s much too late to forget the life lessons learned in adversity without the anodyne of laudanum. Society makes no sense, so she takes to collecting bounties to earn pocket money. Then she finds her pigheaded self in the middle of much more than she bargained for, but she is too stubborn to back out. And readers are too fascinated not to follow.
Verdict Steampunk readers who have not already discovered this series will love this teaser novella and roll right into Tarnished. Cherry is a flawed, selfish, and willful heroine who is not always lovable, but she does keep the reader tantalized to the end.—Marlene Harris, Seattle P.L.

Gail, Stacy. Ugly Ducklings Finish First. Carina: Harlequin. 2013. 174p. ebk. ISBN 9781426895890. $1.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Payton “Metal Mouth” Pruitt has left behind in Bitterthorn, TX, the demise of her parents’ marriage, the relentless push of her mother to succeed at all costs, and the taunts of her school peers. Now she’s a successful, big-city doctor returning to Bitterthorn for her ten-year high school reunion. But as she steps into the school gym, her pride falters under the weight of too many horrid juvenile memories, the worst of which includes Wiley “Coyote” Sharpe, the young stud she had to tutor in high school. Now a hometown lawyer, Wiley is pleased to see that Payton is still incredibly smart and sexy as hell. But convincing her that the town—and the grown-up stud—needs her may cost Wiley his career and his life.
Verdict Readers who love stories of going back to a high school reunion and finding first love again will enjoy this one.—Christyna Hunter, Loudoun Cty. P.L., Lovettsville, VA

starred review starHolt, Desiree. Stripped Naked. Samhain. (Naked Cowboys, Bk. 3). Sept. 2013. 119p. ebk. ISBN 9781619217317. $3.50. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
The third entry in Holt’s “Naked Cowboys” series is a hot and heavy mystery set on the Texas plains. Jinx Malone had just moved back home following a failed engagement to take over her father’s newspaper, the Hill Country Herald. Dillon Cross is the new sheriff in town, nursing a broken heart and an injury from his time in San Antonio. The two meet when a dead body turns up. Past experience puts Jinx and Dillon at odds, but soon they find out that opposites really do attract.
Verdict Holt knows how to pace a story. There is a slow build to the first steamy sex scene. The murder that sets up the plot and brings the two lovers together also serves as the point of resolution. Well-written erotica filled with modern-day cowboys.—John Rodzilla, Emerson Univ., Boston

Macdonald, Ellie. The Governess Club: Bonnie. Avon Impulse. (Governess Club, Bk. 2). Sept. 2013. 100p. ebk. ISBN 9780062292247. 99¢. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
This second installment in the “Governess Club” series (after The Governess Club: Claire) can easily be read as a stand-alone as we meet Miss Bonnie Hodges, who is presently caring for the eight-year-old viscount and his younger brother. Their new guardian, Sir Stephen Montgomery, is convinced the boys’ parents were murdered and immediately begins his investigation on the estate. Bonnie refuses to leave her position as the boys are in danger both emotionally and physically. At the same time, she enjoys conversing with Sir Stephen. With peril closing in on them at Darrowgate, Stephen and Bonnie must work together to keep the boys safe against the violent menace lurking there.
Verdict A very quick read, this fast-paced romance with an undercurrent of suspense features very skillful writing, a satisfying plot, and fleshed-out and likable characters. The heat factor becomes scorching during one interval, while the rest of the book focuses on the events and character development. With the limited cast of characters, the mystery is less of a mystery, but the intriguing setting and the romance make up for that.—Marie Burton, Rockwall, TX

starred review starMaher, Rebecca Rogers. The Bridge. Promised Land. Sept. 2013. 79p. ebk. ISBN 9781625390486. $1.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Christa and Henry meet in the most unlikely of places: in the middle of the night, at the top of one of the Brooklyn Bridge towers, screwing their respective courage to the sticking place in preparation to jumping off. They both may have planned on suicide, but neither wanted a witness. They make a pact to spend 24 hours together, alive. Yet for those 24 hours, they will share one perfect day. Each plans to give the other a reason to live, even as each plans to be back on the bridge the next night. Christa thought that no one would be willing to help her fight the return of her cancer. Henry believed that the weight of his decade-long depression was too much for anyone else to bear. In one day they discover the answer they each had been searching for was at the top of the bridge, and it wasn’t to be found by taking that leap.
Verdict Readers know Christa and Henry will fight the good fight together. The ending feels wonderful because it is so hopeful. This lovely, sweet, and slightly sappy three-hankie special by Maher (Hurricane Lily) is for anyone who wants to see a really sad love story end with an upbeat happy-for-now.—Marlene Harris, Seattle P.L.

Richards, Tony. Tropic of Darkness. Pocket Star. Sept. 2013. 256p. ebk. ISBN 9781476727097. $1.99. F
Richards leaves behind Raine’s Landing, the fictional Massachusetts town founded by Salem witches that has been the setting of his ongoing horror series (most recently Midnight’s Angels), in favor of the warmer clime of Havana, Cuba. In another amalgam of a present-day haunted by sins from the past, he introduces readers to aspiring cornet player Jack Gilliard who is about to encounter a deadly pair of sister spirits from the 18th century who reach out to modern times through a portal formed in the pre-Castro Cuba of the 1950s.
Verdict Unfortunately, the amount of explication required by Richards’s complicated and fanciful premise—which might be better suited to its own series where it could be revealed more slowly—makes for an uneven narrative that undermines the plot’s trajectory.  Best recommended to those who are already familiar with Richards’ particular style of genre-blending.—Nancy McNicol, Hamden P.L., CT

Annalisa Pesek About Annalisa Pesek

Annalisa Pesek (apesek@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor, LJ Book Review
[photograph by John Sarsgard]