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Wanted by the Marshal

Susan Lute. Tule, $3.99 e-book (240p) ISBN 978-1-951786-44-1

Lute’s pleasant sequel to The Sheriff’s Baby Bargain returns to the charming small town of Angel Point, Ore. Dakota James is on a forced leave of absence from the U.S. Marshals following an emotional meltdown. She takes the opportunity to travel to Angel Point for her sister Taylor’s engagement party, determined to convince Taylor that she’s making a mistake by getting married. There she meets Beckett Leland, whom she initially mistakes for Taylor’s fiancé, leading to confusion and anger when he immediately starts flirting with the wrong sister. Beckett, a former Marine flyboy, plans to start a business rehabilitating military dogs for civilian life. He asks Dakota for help looking at commercial properties around town and soon falls for her, but she doesn’t believe in love or happy endings, having witnessed her parents’ disastrous marriage. Then a sweet, elderly couple turns to Dakota and Beckett for assistance following an accident, and Dakota learns a lesson about lasting love. Trust and self-esteem issues form the emotional core of Lute’s heartfelt love story, while a wonderful supporting cast adds color. This earnest romance is thoroughly enjoyable. (July)

Reviewed on 04/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Promise

Patricia Davids. HQN, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-335-13694-7

The uplifting third romance in Davids’s Amish of Cedar Grove series (after The Hope) explores the differing paths of a pair of Amish brothers. When ailing Henrietta Raber announces to her adult sons, Lev and Isaac, that she is moving from their community in Lancaster, Pa., back to her birthplace of Cedar Grove, Kan., they reluctantly agree to go with her despite their conflicting desires: Levi hopes to continue raising racehorses on his late father’s Lancaster farm; Isaac dreams of marrying Brittany, an Englisch woman, and struggles with committing to the Amish faith. Eager to see her boys settled, Henrietta offers ownership of her Cedar Grove farm to whichever son marries first. Levi pushes Isaac into a romance with their childhood friend Sarah Yoder, hoping that if Isaac and Sarah marry, Henrietta will be appeased and he’ll be able to return to Lancaster. Sarah’s eager to marry, but Isaac is still hung up on thoughts of Brittany. As Sarah grows closer to the entire Yoder family, it’s Levi who develops feelings for the charming, self-assured heroine. Their love triangle is handled with subtlety and compassion, leaving all three in the reader’s good graces. This cozy contemporary will have fans of Amish romance eager to read more from Davids. Agent: Pamela Hopkins, Hopkins Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Crushing It

Lorelei Parker. Kensington, $15.95 trade paper (262p) ISBN 978-1-49-672570-7

Parker’s frothy debut offers lots of rom-com antics but little heart. Sierra Reid, an Atlanta, Ga., video game developer, must overcome her fear of public speaking if she wants to be selected to pitch her company’s newest game at Gamescon in Germany. When she crashes and burns at her audition, her best friend convinces her to take part in the Chagrin Challenge, a multinight competition hosted by a local bar to see who can share the most humiliating story. Sierra decides to read an excerpt from her college diary detailing her intense, unrequited feelings for her arrogant classmate Tristan Spencer—who just happens to be in the audience. The only thing calming Sierra’s mortification is the support of the bar’s handsome owner, Alfie Jordan. As the competition continues, Sierra navigates her confused feelings for both Tristan and Alfie and learns the true nature of both men. Though Parker’s over-the-top humor will surely strike a chord with some readers, it frequently comes at the expense of character development and emotional honesty, and the juvenile behavior of the characters will disappoint mature romance fans. Readers looking for a laugh will be gratified, but those hoping for depth will find this an easy pass. Agent: Mike Hoogland, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (July)

Reviewed on 04/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Never Look Back

Mary Burton. Montlake, $12.95 trade paper (378p) ISBN 978-1-5420-0984-3

The promising premise of this romantic thriller from Burton (Senseless) gives way to an unbelievable, overcrowded plot. After two prostitutes go missing in South Nashville, Agent Melina Shepard of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation goes undercover as a prostitute. When a john attempts to abduct her, she stabs her assailant in self-defense, but the man gets away. The DNA on the knife she used is linked to at least 10 murders across the country, leading Melina to be partnered with an FBI profiler, Special Agent Jerrod Ramsey. But their hunt for the killer gets sidetracked when they’re called to the scene of a car accident. A grisly discovery in the trunk soon has them searching for a second serial killer, one with unexpected ties to Melina’s past. Though the addition of the second killer feels unnecessary and contrived, the character’s relationships are well-drawn throughout: Melina and Jerrod’s romance builds gradually from initial attraction to mutual respect and desire, and Melina’s relationship with her parents is heartwarming. Readers willing to forgive the implausible suspense elements will enjoy the sweet love story. Agent: Karen Solem, Spencerhill Assoc. (July)

Reviewed on 04/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Devil of Downtown

Joanna Shupe. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-290685-4

A dauntless heiress becomes entangled with a devilishly handsome criminal kingpin in Shupe’s sizzling third Uptown Girls romance (after The Prince of Broadway). Gutsy do-gooder Justine Greene’s volunteer work representing the desperate and downtrodden of Gilded Age New York for the Legal Aid Society often lands her in compromising situations. For her latest case, she must locate her client’s deadbeat husband, putting her in the orbit of Jack Mulligan, the powerful overseer of the biggest criminal empire in New York State. Not one to be cowed, Justine asks the dastardly yet debonair Mulligan for his assistance in tracking down the man. As Mulligan helps Justine maneuver among New York City’s seedier element, their mutual attraction and flirtatious verbal sparring grow into an unorthodox relationship. Shupe masterfully captures the culture of New York City in the 1890s, highlighting the restrictions placed on women. In this context, it’s easy to see the appeal of the freedom offered by Mulligan’s roguish ways. The heat between the protagonists is palpable as their dangerous encounters in the criminal underworld push them toward each other. Blending drama, banter, and sensuality, this electrifying historical romance keeps the series going strong. Agent: Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 04/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Marry in Scarlet

Anne Gracie. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-984802-06-4

An arrogant duke changes his ways in Gracie’s alluring fourth Marriage of Convenience romance (after Marry in Secret). Freespirited Lady Georgiana “George” Rutherford has no desire to be married, but that only makes her more appealing to Redmond “Hart” Hartley, Duke of Everingham, who sees her independent nature as an opportunity to gain a wife and an heir while still maintaining his bachelor lifestyle. He attempts to trap George into marriage by kissing her where he knows they’ll be discovered, but it’s only when Hart’s mother tricks George by pretending to be on her deathbed that George agrees to the proposal. It’s his mother’s horrible behavior that finally makes Hart see that he too has behaved abominably; he offers to release George from their betrothal, but it’s too late. Married life is different than either of them expected, leading them both to reevaluate just how independent they hope to be. Though Hart’s redemptive path toward viewing George with love and respect is satisfying to witness, his early behavior will turn off some readers before he can get there. Still, George is an admirable heroine and the chemistry between her and Hart is magnetic. Series devotees will be satisfied by this emotional Regency. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Walls of Sparta

Charles Lloyd. Lethe, $23 trade paper (394p) ISBN 978-1-59021-694-1

Desire between men shapes the politics of ancient Sparta in Lloyd’s sprawling debut. Agesilaos outmaneuvers his brother’s illegitimate son to become king of Sparta with the help of his older “inspirer” (lover), Lysandros. The narrative spirals out from there, moving between characters in the orbit of the king to explore tense battles, delicate diplomacy, and shifting romances. Megabates, a beautiful foreigner, impresses Agesilaos during a boar hunt but his timid sexual advances on the king are eventually rebuffed. After an intense battle between Sparta and Thebes, Spartan soldier Kleuas flouts convention to ensure a proper burial for his sworn enemy, Ladromos. Agesilaos’s son, Prince Arkhidamos, finds a lover in Kleonymos, but when Keonymos’s father is accused of treason, he must beg Arkhidamos for clemency. And as Agesilaos ages, his wife, Kleora, reflects on their life together. The stories of these interconnected lives combine into a comprehensive portrait of Spartan society under Agesilaos’s rule, dense with historical detail and lyrical love scenes. Though keeping track of the ever-expanding cast requires more attention than some will be willing to give, patient readers will be rewarded by Lloyd’s diligent scene-setting and nuanced relationships. Readers will be transported by this erotic trip to the past. (July)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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While My Heart Beats

Erin McKenzie. Bold Strokes, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-63555-589-9

McKenzie (Taking Chances) fails to deliver on the promising premise of this WWI-era lesbian romance. In October 1915, wealthy 22-year-old Ellie Winthrop is content to squabble with her family and sashay between meetings of socialite suffragists with little thought spared for the war. Not until her cousins are killed in action does the reality of wartime impinge on Ellie’s privileged bubble. Grieving and determined to do her part, she volunteers for the Red Cross and is shipped from Surrey, England, to Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, under the supervision of the formidable Johanna Lennox, a working-class nurse who refuses to suffer fools. The two women’s path to love is paint-by-numbers and hits all the typical plot beats of an enemies-to-lovers and boss-and-subordinate romance without fleshing them out or examining the effect class differences might have on the relationship. The period detail is sketchy at best, and often sacrificed for the sake of sanitized romantic moments. The result is a flat romance that is neither realistic nor escapist. Though it’s refreshing to see historical lesbians find a happy ending, for many readers this won’t be enough. (May)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Nobody Else but You

Claire Marti. Claire Marti, $12.99 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-73330-461-0

Marti (Sunset in Laguna) brings Hollywood charisma to cowboy romance with this witty but poorly paced love story. Holt Ericsson, a Hollywood stuntman turned film producer, travels to Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., to secure the use of Pacific Vista Ranch as a filming location, but the owner’s fiery-tempered daughter might throw a wrench in his plans. Ranch manager Samantha McNeill is furious her father would even consider allowing a film crew to intrude on her sanctuary, no matter how attractive she finds Holt. The McNeill family used to be in showbiz themselves, and Samantha’s dealt with more than enough paparazzi-fueled scandal for one lifetime. But Samantha’s father secretly craves his old life in the spotlight and agrees to let the film shoot on the ranch; suddenly Holt and Samantha are spending a lot of time together. Their early, contentious flirtation is sparky and delightful, but after their first kiss they immediately jump into a committed relationship, dissipating the fun of anticipation. This abrupt change in relationship status will leave readers disoriented. Despite a fumbled execution, the snappy dialogue and appealing characters mark Marti as a writer to watch. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Adachi and Shimamura

Hitoma Iruma, trans. from the Japanese by Molly Lee, illus. by Non. Seven Seas, $13.99 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-64505-535-8

Two high school girls tentatively navigate their budding romance in this simple, oddly voyeuristic light novel from Iruma (Bloom into You), inexplicably being marketed to adults. Adachi and Shimamura meet while they both happen to be skipping class and hiding out in the school gym. They immediately strike up an easy friendship, but both girls secretly want more. Unsure what to do with these new feelings, they haltingly inch their relationship forward. The bulk of the plot is taken up by hesitant flirtation and blushing eye contact. This character-driven love story is hampered by the lack of psychological complexity of its protagonists, who read as flimsy adult fantasies of teenage girls. Iruma is more concerned with describing their appearances than their internal lives: “In contrast to Adachi, my hair was visibly bleached to a tawny copper color, and I put more effort into my makeup,” Shimamura tells the reader. While this pubescent love story might appeal to a teen readership, it fails as a work for adults. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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