October Publications

Single working moms will be drawn to the fairy tale element of Stef Ann Holm's Girls Night, which depicts the relationship between a wealthy true crime author and a middle-aged widow who owns a failing coffee shop. Jillene McDermott needs someone to save her from financial ruin and loneliness, and gorgeous Vince Tremonti may be the perfect man for the position. Vince, a confirmed bachelor, is only in Blue Heron, Wash., for a short stay, but he's inexplicably attracted to the featherbrained Jillene and charmed by her sunny, adolescent daughters. Holm throws Vince and Jillene together as often as possible, but their lack of chemistry hampers the story nearly as much as her trite, awkward prose ("Time stopped moving," "Their eyes clung"). While there isn't much to recommend here in the way of romance, Holm does offer some insights on the true-crime writing profession. (Mira, $6.50 384p ISBN 0-55166-949-8)

The four stories in Once Upon a Kiss, the newest volume in the Once Upon... series (Once Upon a Rose, etc.), contain elements of the fantastic, but only Nora Roberts and Jill Gregory succeed in making the unbelievable believable. Fate pairs a contemporary P.I. with an Amazonian demon slayer from a parallel universe in Roberts's irresistibly funny "A World Apart," and shades of Harry Potter and Romeo & Juliet can be found in Gregory's "Impossible," a charming fable of two lovers who bring peace to their feuding families through marriage. In contrast, Ruth Ryan Langan ("Sealed with a Kiss") and Marianne Willman ("Kiss Me, Kate") stumble with stories that would have been better suited as novels. Overall, this unbalanced collection isn't likely to encourage readers new to the series to look up the previous books, but there's no question that it will grace bestseller lists. (Jove, $7.99 384p ISBN 0-515-13386-8)