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Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor

Melanie Dobson. Howard, $14.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4614-2

Dobson, author of 13 novels (Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana), has written in historical, suspense, and contemporary genres, and her newest blends all three in a tale that shifts from the 1950s, to the 1970s, and to the present. Dobson does a masterly job weaving the disparate tales: art restorer Heather Toulson must return to the English town she fled 25 years ago after Christopher Westcott broke her heart; Maggie Emerson hid a terrible tragedy, then did all she could to prevent it from happening again to her daughter; Libby Doyle, Maggie’s daughter, is an unusual and sensitive girl who is loved by Oliver Croft, the wealthy boy who lives next door in Ladenbrooke Manor; and Walter Doyle is the figure whose story is woven through generations of families and secrets. Dobson handles sensitive issues with tact, careful to avoid too much detail but remaining honest. Mysteries are solved, truths revealed, and loves rekindled in a book sure to draw new fans to Dobson’s already large base. Agent: Natasha Kern, Natasha Kern Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Earl’s Defiant Wallflower

Erica Ridley. Intrepid Reads, $2.99 e-book (200p) ISBN 978-1-9397132-7-8

The first in Ridley’s less than promising Dukes of War Regency series rushes a complex plot to an unbelievable climax. Grace Halton’s widowed mother, Clara, suffers from an unidentified illness that requires expensive treatment she can’t afford. Grace leaves their Pennsylvania home and travels to England to acquire the only cash to which she has any claim: she is inexplicably entitled to a substantial dowry, even though Clara’s unforgiving parents long ago disowned her. To collect it, Grace needs a husband who’s willing to marry immediately and wealthy enough to let her put the money toward Clara’s medical bills. Enter Lord Oliver York, the new Earl of Carlisle, who’s recently returned from war. He’s dirt-poor and looking for a rich bride. Naturally, they fall in love. A clumsy deus ex machina fixes all the problems caused by Grace and Oliver’s impractical romance, leaving no challenges for them to overcome themselves. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Steam Me Up, Rawley

Angela Quarles. Unsealed Room, $14.99 trade paper (294p) ISBN 978-0-9905400-3-8

Quarles (Must Love Breeches) builds a sprightly 1890s steampunk Alabama where ladies have metal parasol holders installed in their backs and automated balloons are available for rental, but its gender roles are strictly traditional, and America appears devoid of people of color. Dr. Phillip Rawley, having promised to marry a surgeon’s daughter in exchange for treatment for his maimed sister, is surprised that his intended fiancée, Adele de la Pointe, would rather investigate the murders of prostitutes than settle into an engagement. Adele urges Phillip to accept his dashing nature as he gets used to her brazenness, and soon they’ve fallen in love. The two of them make a great team, even when Adele’s pet monkey makes it a team of three. Quarles’s world is slapdash, sanitized, and not quite exaggerated enough to offer the thrill of good adventure writing, and the sex is a bit too emotionless to satisfy romance lovers, but the story moves quickly and readers should at least be amused. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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50 Ways to Ruin a Rake

Jade Lee. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0499-0

Lee’s first Rakes and Rogues Regency romance is a middling affair that relies too heavily on the ridiculous. When Melinda Smithson, beautiful, rich, and logical, is proposed to for the umpteenth time by her obsessively poetic but brutish cousin Ronnie, she bemoans her inexplicable lack of other prospects. Trevor, future Duke of Timby and a former student of Melinda’s father, pays a visit and complains that his grandfather has cut off all funds until Trevor becomes engaged. Quickly he realizes that a fake betrothal will let him introduce Melinda to men who might court her and will also unlock his bank accounts. Unexpected reactions, high emotions, determined suitors, and scenes of passion soon blur the lines between falsehood and reality. Lee begins her tale with an unsuccessful attempt at humor and relies on extreme emotional drama to propel the action. Her formulaic and unoriginal plot strikes out. Agent: Karen Solem, Spencerhill Associates. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Wolf Bride

Elizabeth Moss. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $13.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-4926-1382-4

Moss’s workmanlike first Lust in the Tudor Court historical pours strong emotion into various stock romance situations. When Eloise witnesses the flirtations of Queen Anne, Eloise is horrified to realize she herself now harbors a dangerous secret. Her father arranges a marriage for her, shattering her romantic dreams of eloping with a young courtier. Worse, her husband is to be the formidable Lord Wolf. Though the story is predictable and the characters are unsurprising, Moss makes up for it with steamy romance, wild passion, and bitter jealousy. Intertwined with the tragic fate of Anne Boleyn, there is enough melodrama to make for a pleasant distraction, if not an absorbing narrative. Eloise and Wolf’s childish spats and willful miscommunications raise the tension but not the stakes, so the merry resolution seems tacked on, but the spicy interludes throughout will please fans of erotic romance. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Harlot Countess

Joanna Shupe. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3554-1

Shupe’s second Wicked Intentions Regency (after The Courtesan Duchess) falters only when the stock suspense subplot kicks in. Maggie, Lady Hawkins, suffered an undeserved scandal during her debut season. Simon, the Earl of Winchester, believed the worst of the rumors and snubbed her. A decade later, the widowed “Half-Irish Harlot” draws political cartoons as the mysterious Lemarc, frequently lampooning the earl. They meet again when Simon attempts to discover Lemarc’s identity, and the attraction is immediate. But Simon’s trust issues plague their reunion, as do Maggie’s fears that their association will damage his rise in Parliament. Both problems multiply when he realizes she is Lemarc. Simon’s friends, surprisingly eager in their support of Maggie, round things out nicely, as does Maggie’s fiercely protective circle. Shupe unfortunately fails to leave well enough alone; the lovers have plenty to overcome without the intrigue that gums up the last third of the book. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Wild Heat

Lucy Monroe. Grand Central/Forever, $6 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-4555-7548-0

In the first of her Northern Fire series, Monroe (the Children of the Moon series) introduces Cailkirn, Alaska, the small town Kitty Grant’s ancestors founded nearly 200 years ago. Eight years after Kitty escaped Cailkirn, she returns to rebuild her life, following her divorce from an abusive husband who sent her spiraling into anorexia. Tack MacKinnon runs a hiking tour company that caters to tourists from cruise ships. He was heartbroken when Kitty broke off their longtime friendship and got married (though her spouse remains in California), and now he’ll do anything to protect his heart while helping her recover her health. With immediate chemistry between them, he uses casual, hot sex to bribe her to eat. Tack’s insistence on pretending to be just friends hamstrings the development of romance; the jealousy and misunderstandings are never balanced by tenderness. The repeated introduction of flat protagonists for future books gives the novel an unsatisfying episodic feel. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg, Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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No One like You

Kate Angell. Kensington, $9.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-7582-9130-1

Angell cleverly combines her Richmond Rogues baseball series (Sweet Spot) with her exuberant Barefoot William books, set in a folksy boardwalk town in Florida (No Sunshine When She’s Gone), where the wealthy Cates family sets the rules. The Rogues are in Barefoot William for spring training. When Beth Avery, down to her last dollar, applies for a job as a temporary personal assistant to the Rogues team captain, she doesn’t expect to wind up working for handsome Rylan Cates, who has a houseful of eccentric dogs. Rylan thinks Beth will be the perfect employee because she’s not his type and will thus provide no romantic distractions. However, the quirky brunette quickly becomes essential to the baseball hero, and though their romance is troubled by neither conflict nor obstacles, they make an appealing couple. The setting and characters are familiar, but the book stands on its own and will appeal to readers who enjoy a humorous contemporary romance with a bit of sizzle. Agent: Brown Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Playing Dirty

C.L. Parker. Bantam, $15 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-101-88294-8

Parker (A Million Guilty Pleasures) delivers a fun, action-packed, highly erotic romp to open the Monkey Business series. Two high-achieving sports agents compete for one superstar quarterback, and the prize for signing him will be the coveted partnership at their elite San Diego firm. Charismatic Shaw Matthews decides to seduce his uptight nemesis, Cassidy Whalen, to throw her off her game. Determined Cassidy feels she has earned the promotion and plans to win by any means necessary. As they fall into seduction laced with anger, wit, and lust, they’re surprised how easily their workplace behavior translates into daring sexual taunts and challenges. Tension mounts as Cassidy and Shaw both find their sexual antics becoming more satisfying than their competition over the quarterback. Numerous secondary characters with their own relationship woes keep the story busy. The cliffhanger will surprise those expecting a traditional romantic happy ending, but readers will be eager to read the sequel, hoping for more rough and dirty sexual acrobatics, friendship, backstabbing, and empathy. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Scoundrel by Moonlight

Anna Campbell. Grand Central/Forever, $8 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-4555-5793-6

Campbell’s beguiling fourth Sons of Sin Regency (after What a Duke Dares) pits the vengeful Nel Trim against dastardly cad James Fairbrother, Marquess of Leath. Once Nel learns that Leath’s seduction of her innocent half-sister, Dorothy, caused the young woman’s scandalous pregnancy and childbed death, she will stop at nothing to bring him down. She makes up her mind to steal the private diary he keeps of all his lecherous assignations, to expose him for the lout he is. When James catches Nel searching his library, he intends to toss her out of his house, but his intractable mother insists on taking Nel as her personal companion. From there it’s a clash of wills and hearts as James, of course, turns out not to be quite the bounder that Dorothy described. Campbell excels at developing the initial misdirection and confusion into sexy romance. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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