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Two Ways Home

Sandra Kraak. Trail House, $12.99 trade paper (291p) ISBN 978-1-5355-6701-5

Kraak’s winsome Christian historical romance traces the path of redemption by going home again. Set just before the turn of the century, the novel begins in tiny Pine Creek, Wash., a town without much to offer young people who dream of bigger things. So Mary Smith decides to go off to Portland to study music. But with her father at risk of losing their struggling dairy farm, she decides to return home and help make ends meet by milking cows by day and playing piano for miners and lumberjacks by night. Mary’s old enemy from childhood, Luke Thomas, always dreamed of becoming a Texas Ranger, but when he left Pine Creek to pursue that career, his reasons turned out to be more complicated than mere goodwill. Now he has come back home to Pine Creek, wounded, amid a heated race for sheriff. Effective flashbacks reveal a lifelong friendly antagonism between Luke and Mary, fleshing out their characters and offering perspective on the couple’s current relationship—one that appears doomed from the start. Kraak provides plenty of twists and turns in this leisurely paced fun novel centered on Christian values. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Redeeming Grace: Ruth’s Story

Jill Eileen Smith. Revell, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-8007-2036-0

Smith (Wives of King David), beloved for her biblical fiction bringing new life to women from the pages of Scripture, turns her imagination to Ruth, a Moabite who returns with her mother-in-law, Naomi, to Israel. Naomi lost her husband and two sons in Moab after moving there to avoid famine in their hometown of Bethlehem. Readers familiar with the tale will enjoy this retelling of the love story between Ruth and Boaz, a kinsman who redeems the lost family’s land and finds a worthy wife in the process. Smith’s attention to detail regarding Moab and Israel’s feasts and laws makes the narrative believable without distracting from the engrossing narrative. Side plots such as that of Hamul and Hava will please readers deeply familiar with Scripture. Those who don’t know the story will learn a lot about ancient Bible lands, practices of the Jewish faith, and love and redemption in Smith’s fine rendition of this much-loved story. Agent: Wendy Lawton, Books & Such Literary (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Lady of the Bridge

Laura Kitchell. Laura Kitchell, $6.99 trade paper (152p) ASIN B015ZIGMOK

Kitchell’s warmhearted 17th-century Japanese historical romance (after Lady of the Imperial Court) beguiles the reader with passion, secrets, and deadly action. Forward-thinking warrior princess Saiko is tormented when her father, the most powerful man in Japan, informs her that she will become the consort to the figurehead emperor. She seeks solitude at her favorite bridge, where she meets elite loyal samurai Hosokawa Takamori. An immediate attraction between the two grows steadily during their daily clandestine meetings. Saiko evades Takamori’s inquiries about her identity and their future, as defying honor and the protocols of duty can have deadly consequences. When Saiko’s father assigns Takamori to escort her to the emperor, she manages to keep her secret until the retinue is attacked. Saiko uses her warrior skills alongside Takamori’s as they race across Japan to safety. While awaiting reinforcements, they create blissful intimate memories and strategize how to defeat their enemies. Just when it looks as though loyalty will win out over love, a twist of fate brings happiness within their reach. Cultural and historical nuances and a spirited heroine overcome a meandering beginning and a less developed hero in this fine period romance. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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One More Kiss

Samantha Chase. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-1640-5

After bombing on Broadway, a rock star seeking redemption finds love in his hometown with his best friend’s kid sister in Chase’s (Love Walks In) first Band on the Run novel. The story’s dramatic potential rests on a passionate kiss between Matt Reed and Vivienne Forrester; two years later, he’s chalked it up to a boozy fantasy, but she recalls it with painful clarity. When Matt retreats to the North Carolina home of Aaron, Vivienne’s brother, just as she is moving onto the property’s guesthouse to live and work as a magazine’s assistant editor, Vivienne is hostile and Matt has no idea why. But her expression of her feelings is so muted that it’s surprising he noticed it at all, and when he remembers the kiss and the two begin to act upon their mutual attraction, what little drama exists in the narrative is left hinging on Matt’s internal conflict, which might have been interesting had it been more thoroughly explained earlier on. Agent: Mark Gottlieb, Trident Media Group. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sugar

Kimberly Stuart. Skyhorse, $24.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-5107-1413-7

The one-sided first-person narrative and lack of romantic chemistry make this romance difficult to swallow. Pastry chef and control freak Charlie Garrett is all work and no play. Her boss has been promising for years to make her the head pastry chef; tired of waiting, she accepts a job offer from her ex and moves to Seattle. Charlie’s best friends are determined to see her in a relationship, so they set her up with diner owner Kai Malloy, whom she’d only briefly encountered once. Despite her quirky, irritating ways, Kai likes her enough to be patient with her busy life, which soon includes a filming schedule. Readers aren’t privy to Kai’s past or his innermost thoughts, so it’s difficult to understand why he’s willing to stay with Charlie despite her refusal to make him a priority. The relationship feels forced rather than developed. Stuart (the Heidi Elliott series) has some talent with prose, but there’s nothing sweet about this bland romance. Agent: Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Between the Devil and the Duke: A Season for Scandal Romance

Kelly Bowen. Forever, $5.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6341-8

Bowen’s third Season for Scandal Regency (after A Duke to Remember) is a single-sitting read whose main characters are as diverting as they are seductive. Once Lady Angelique Archer is introduced, everything else takes a backseat to her heady romance with gaming-house owner Alexander Lavoie, a reputed assassin and spy. She only frequents his establishment because her family is pressed for cash and she knows how to play cards—to win, every time. The masked and mysterious beauty finds herself in dire straits one night when she wins a little too much from a drunken opponent with no sense of humor. When her best efforts to extricate herself are unsuccessful, Lavoie has to step in. Luckily, he does have a sense of humor, confesses he’s been watching her, and is on to her uncanny ability with cards. Against her better judgment, she’s forced to accept Lavoie’s offer of a job. From there the fun, intrigue, and romance crescendo in a whopping plot twist. Bowen’s Regency romances are always delightful, and this is one of her best yet. Agent: Stefanie Lieberman, Janklow & Nesbit. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Cheater

Rachel Van Dyken. Skyscape, , $9.99 ISBN 978-1-5039-4209-7

Van Dyken’s contemporary romance will win fans and accolades with an adorable heroine, a roguish hero, and plenty of snappy banter. Avery Black, fresh out of college and living on her own, has been downsized out of her job. If she’s going to keep the lights on in her modest downtown Seattle apartment, she desperately needs a regular paycheck. A paid internship may not be ideal, but the money means she won’t have to move back in with her parents. It seems an easy-enough assignment until she meets her boss and finds out what a small world it is. Lucas Thorn, the v-p of marketing and research for whom she’ll be working, is also a cad, a cheater, and the man who left her sister at the altar, breaking the hearts of the entire Black family. Naturally, they hit it off. Told in the alternating voices of Avery and Lucas, Van Dyken’s diverting cat and mouse matchup is pure starry-eyed escapist fun. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Covalent Bonds

Edited by Trysh Thompson. World Weaver, $14.95 trade paper (313p) ISBN 978-0-9977888-2-2

Science fiction is full of stories of the geek guy getting the woman of his dreams; this anthology sets out to balance that with tales of geeky women landing superhot guys. Heroines include a computer nerd (“The Hacked Match” by Wendy Sparrow), a hardcore online gamer (“Addie-cted” by Charlotte M. Ray), and a tabletop gamer (“Critical Hit” by Cori Vidae), all of whom know what they want and aren’t afraid to reach for him. Some stories are full-fledged romances with happily-ever-afters (such as Mara Malin’s “Classification of Nerd”); others end on the first blush of romance (as in “Better than Chocolate” by Tellulah Darling). Likewise, some are sweet enough to satisfy any romance reader while others are written with apparent ignorance of romance genre conventions, leaving them feeling strangely incomplete. The collection lacks clear aim, targeted to neither science fiction fans nor romance readers, but those who appreciate both genres will find this a rare chance to enjoy two of their favorite subjects in one fun collection. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Highland Vixen

Mary Wine. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0259-0

Wine’s well-researched second Highland Wedding historical (after Highland Spitfire) sizzles with passion and romance in 16th-century Scotland. Helen Grant runs away from MacPherson Castle and marriage with Marcus MacPherson, war chief of the MacPhersons, so that she and her friend Brenda can travel to court. Brenda believes she can seek shelter from her relatives there but doesn’t expect to fall under the iron rule of the Earl of Morton. When Marcus follows them, hoping to bring Helen back to MacPherson Castle, he is imprisoned after refusing to marry Katherine, a young girl of Morton’s choosing. Helen decides to save Marcus, and she can think of only one way to prevent his marriage to the frightened girl: marrying him herself. But Helen’s hasty decision is not without its own emotional and physical dangers as the newlyweds make their way back to MacPherson Castle, and Helen must decide whether she wants a real marriage to Marcus after all. The constant simmering romantic tension propels the story swiftly forward, and the historical accuracy and expert character development set this novel a notch above other Highlands historicals. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Under Her Skin

Adriana Anders. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-3384-6

In this emotionally riveting page-turner, debut author Anders creates two broken but highly sympathetic protagonists who elicit each other’s inner strength as each seeks to heal from poor choices and toxic relationships. Uma is on the run from her abusive boyfriend after a night of torture in which he covered her body with horrible tattoos. She lands in tiny Blackwood, Va., where a local skin clinic offers free tattoo removal for abused women. After getting a job as a live-in companion to an elderly woman, Uma is drawn to her gruff new neighbor, Ivan, a metalworker and self-defense teacher that strays of many species turn to for nurture. The kindness, integrity, growing trust, and playful, steamy chemistry between Uma and Ivan allows them both to find hope in the possibility of a healthy relationship. Anders’s strong cast of supporting characters includes Uma’s reclusive employer, Ivan’s sister, and the local bartender, and the town becomes a character in itself. Readers will be hungry for more from Anders’s pen. Agent: Laura Bradford, Laura Bradford Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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