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Sunday Morning Song

Tia McCollors. Whitaker House, $13.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-62911-010-3

McCollors’s second book in the Days of Grace series (after Friday Night Love) is a familiar love story that deftly combines Christian reverence with an exciting and sentimental romance that avoids sappiness. Quinn Montgomery is the survivor of a physically abusive marriage that nearly kills her. She meets Officer Leviticus Gray twice; for the first time, the night that he is one of the first responders to her home, and then years later, when he pulls her over for speeding. Through pure, slow, good old-fashioned friendship and courtship with strict boundaries, Quinn and Levi replace the song that made her Sunday mornings grim—“Amazing Grace,” a favorite of her ex-husband’s—with one that readers will want to sing, too. While she hasn’t created a particularly original love story and some of its details don’t seem completely plausible, McCollors notably offers readers some things that less successful romances don’t: humor, authenticity, and tenderness along with an engaging plot and endearing characters. Agency: MacGregor Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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At Bluebonnet Lake

Amanda Cabot. Revell, $14.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3434-3

Cabot (With Autumn’s Return) finds the perfect balance between passion and integrity in the first book of her Texas Crossroads series. Kate Sherwood, a harried Manhattan marketing wunderkind, is roped into taking her widowed grandmother on the trip of a lifetime back to Rainbow’s End, a resort in Texas hill country. The weathered and struggling resort holds just enough magic to present Kate with Greg Vange, a mysterious handyman who captures her attention as well as her heart as they both find themselves at crossroads in their lives. Multiple character voices blend harmoniously into a joyous song of love. Uplifting and inspiring, the story speaks to the way nostalgia wisely finds a place in the modern world. Drawing readers into the lives of her characters, Cabot engages and entertains in equal measure. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Drowning

Jassy de Jong. Astor and Blue, $14.99 trade paper (236p) ISBN 978-1-938231-96-4

Johannesburg native de Jong (Stolen Lives) offers up a tantalizing romantic drama set in the South African bush. Photographer Erin Mitchell is driving over a bridge when a flood washes it away, leaving her near death and stranded. Rescued by the handsome, mysterious Nicholas de Lanoy, she’s forced to take refuge in his private estate while she recovers from her ordeal and waits for the bridge to be repaired so she can return to civilization. Though Erin is desperate to be reunited with Vince, her husband of a few months, she’s unable to resist Nicholas’s seductive charms, and their mutual attraction soon explodes into a passionate affair. The longer she spends away from Vince, the more Erin recognizes just how paranoid, abusive, and controlling her husband is. But she’s determined to remain true to her vows, even if it means giving up Nicholas, a better man in all ways. The sexual chemistry bursts from every page as the erotic nature of the story plays out, with de Jong’s characters coming to life both emotionally and sensually. Only Vince’s unredeemable, vile nature helps to redeem the stigma of adultery, which otherwise hinders the satisfying romance. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Anything He Wants & Castaway

Sara Fawkes. St. Martin’s Griffin, $14.99 trade paper (672p) ISBN 978-1-250-05495-1

In this print omnibus edition, Fawkes (Breathe into Me) brings together the myriad components of her digital serial romantic thriller starring Lucy Delacourt, a young temp worker who is swept up in a life of luxury, decadence, and danger when she becomes involved with the wealthy, mysterious Jeremiah Hamilton. What starts as a passionate affair quickly turns dangerous when an assassin stalks them both. When Lucy makes the mistake of sharing her feelings for her new lover, he rejects her confession, sending her into the arms of his gunrunning brother Lucas. Now torn between Lucas and Jeremiah, constantly at risk for her life, Lucy must search her heart to determine her future. This epic tale suffers from an identity crisis: it starts off intense and sensual, promising bedroom encounters aplenty, but quickly becomes a globe-trotting adventure full of suspense and drama, finishing off its run with some BDSM experimentation. All of these aspects are skillfully handled—the erotic moments are charged with passion and desire and the romantic threads are emotionally rich and complex—but they could be better balanced. Agent: Steven Axelrod, Axelrod Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Men of the Manor: Erotic Encounters Between Upstairs Lords and Downstairs Lads

Edited by Rob Rosen. Cleis, $15.95 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-1-62778-066-7

Gay erotica veteran Rosen delivers 13 tales of masters and servants, dandies, fops, and schoolboy dalliances that carry into adulthood. They range from the playful, like Sasha Payne’s “Master Jeffy Learns a Lesson,” an erotic riff on Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories, to the pornographic, as in Michael Roberts’s “Manor Games,” where a servant secretly services his master’s opponents at a poker game to help him clear a debt. There is some exploration of the damaging nature of class-driven social structures, tangentially in J.L. Merrow’s teasing “Brass Rags,” in which a young lord rescues an unjustly terminated servant with less-than-noble intentions, and more seriously in Logan Zachary’s “Front Door, Back Door,” where a household servant who suffers the young heir’s unwanted attentions tries to spare the new chauffeur from the same fate and finds a new friend. The collection will appeal to fans of agonized internal conflict, unabashed raunch, and charming euphemisms such as the “joys of rear occupation.” (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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His Road Home

Anna Richland. Carina, $2.99 e-book (74p) ISBN 978-1-4268-9912-6

Richland (First to Burn) packs a novel’s worth of plot and characterization into this tantalizing novella. Sgt. Reynaldo Cruz fibbed to his fellow soldiers about being engaged to a woman he barely knows. When an explosion catapults him from serving as a medic in Afghanistan to recovering from a double amputation at Walter Reed Hospital outside of Washington, D.C., his supposed fiancée is called to his bedside. Dr. Grace Kim, a marine biologist, doesn’t even remember meeting Reynaldo. Unwilling to expose his deception given the circumstances, she heads to Walter Reed to figure out why this man connected himself to her. What follows is a raw, emotional story of two embattled people slowly building a life together. Painful self-examination is rewarded with a deeper understanding of what it means to love and be loved in return. The story’s only flaw is that it ends far too soon, leaving readers desperate for more of Richland’s powerful descriptions and deep characterization. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Celine

Kathleen Bittner Roth. Kensington/Zebra, $6.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3528-2

In pre–Civil War Louisiana, Celine Kirkland is grieving the death of her husband and unborn child. She finds refuge at the plantation home of the Andrews family, but is thrown off guard when ladies’ man Trevor Andrews comes to visit. Celine worries that if she succumbs to her powerful attraction to Trevor, she would just be another of his many conquests, but as she discovers the man beneath Trevor’s arrogance, she can’t help falling in love with him. Meanwhile, she inadvertently starts a rift between Trevor and his cousin Cameron. Roth (A Duke’s Wicked Kiss) creates an admirable protagonist in Celine, who is more than a simpering Southern belle. Celine hasn’t forgotten her humble beginnings and is determined to exercise her independence in a society where women have few rights. When she decides to make the long and dangerous trip to California, her strength of character grows. The complex characters and rich sensuality make this a story to be savored. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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All Fired Up

Kate Meader. Grand Central/Forever, $6 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-4555-9961-5

Meader returns to Chicago and the boisterous DeLuca family (familiar from Feel the Heat) in this enjoyable contemporary romance. Cara DeLuca has always felt like an outsider. After her sister, Lili, gets engaged to Cara’s boss, Jack Kilroy, and he moves his base of operations from New York City to Chicago, Cara comes back with him. Enter Shane Doyle, a sexy Irish pastry chef who just started working for Jack. During a drunken Las Vegas trip, the normally tightly controlled Cara throws caution to the wind and proposes to Shane—and he accepts, leading to an immediate ceremony. Once they sober up, neither one wants to tell anyone about the marriage. In addition, Cara’s a recovering anorexic, and Shane’s hiding a huge secret about his parentage. Can their wild night turn into lasting love? Meader skillfully creates achingly imperfect and wonderful characters with Cara and Shane—two damaged souls who want nothing but love, but are afraid to believe in its promise—and her plotting rings true. This first-rate tale will draw laughter, tears, and anticipation for the next book in the series. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Scratch

Rhonda Helms. Kensington, $9.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-61773-120-4

Traumatized by her gruesome family past, emotionally and physically scarred Casey hides her feelings from those around her in Helms’s convincing new adult romance. Casey has reached her senior year in college without ever really connecting with anyone. She ignores her bubbly roommate, Megan, in favor of studies, her DJ job, and her Friday visits to her grandparents’ house. When she meets the pushy and impulsive Daniel, she is attracted to him despite her unwillingness to open up. Undeterred, Daniel tries to pull her out of her shell. The satisfying attraction between Casey and Daniel tugs at the reader’s heartstrings, especially when it becomes clear that Daniel cannot save her; rather, Casey is encouraged by his overbearing insistence to start saving herself. A refreshingly strong-willed and flawed heroine makes this layered page-turner memorable, and the soundtrack brings Casey and Daniel’s absorbing courtship to life. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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In Your Dreams

Kristan Higgins. HQN, $7.99 mass market (480p) ISBN 978-0-373-77931-4

After rescuing four teenagers from drowning, handsome Jack Holland is hailed as a hero, but he’s secretly haunted by the boy he didn’t reach in time, who is still in a coma. Emmaline Neal, a police officer also involved in the rescue, has been invited to her ex-fiancé’s wedding in Malibu and is determined to show up with a date so she won’t be pitied by her family and acquaintances. Mutual friends in the small town of Manningsport, N.Y., know Jack’s good-natured willingness to serve as escort to female friends, and they arrange for him to accompany Emmaline to the wedding. The stress of the appalling wedding drives Emmaline into Jack’s arms for a passionate night, but her low self-esteem and Jack’s persistent ex-wife make it hard for her to believe he could truly love her. Higgins uses warmth and humor to develop congenial, realistic characters, making this fourth Blue Heron novel (after Waiting on You) a very appealing addition to her body of work. Agent: Maria Carvainis, Maria Carvainis Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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