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The Highlander’s Holiday Wife

Vanessa Kelly. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5453-5

A widow and a doctor pair up to solve a mystery in Kelly’s page-turning fifth Clan Kendrick novel (after The Highlander’s Irish Bride). In November 1826, Lady Samantha Penwith’s search for who killed her late husband, Roger, takes her and her bodyguard, Donny, to the dangerous neighborhood of Old Town, Edinburgh—and they arrive just in time to save Dr. Braden Kendrick from would-be assailants. Donny is injured in the fray, so, when Braden learns the identity of his savior, he volunteers to join her on her nightly excursions as her protector. Their quest to find Roger’s killer soon dovetails with a mystery about children disappearing from an orphanage run by Roger’s Penwith Philanthropic Foundation. The suspense and danger increase along with the romance as Samantha and Braden discover love where they least expected it. The Yuletide background is subtle, but the holiday celebrations do provide a nice contrast to the undercurrent of mystery. Fast-paced and tension-filled, this adventurous Regency will have readers hooked. Agent: Margaret Hart, HSW Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2022 | Details & Permalink

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One Last Gift

Emily Stone. Dell, $17 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-59834-4

With this beautiful and heart-wrenching Christmas story, Stone (Always, in December) delivers an epic story of family, loss, and the triumph of love. Siblings Cassie and Tom relied on each other and a group of friends who became like surrogate family after the death of their parents when they were children. Now adults, they’re closer than ever, held together partly by beloved holiday traditions, including Tom creating a clever holiday scavenger hunt for Cassie each year. When Tom is killed in a rock-climbing accident shortly before Christmas, Cassie falls apart, distancing herself from friends Sam and Hazel. Meanwhile, Sam withdraws into his own grief, blaming himself for Tom’s death because he was not there to save him. Though Sam wants to be there for Cassie—with whom he shared a single passionate kiss five years earlier—he fears disappointing her. When Cassie discovers the first clue to the Christmas scavenger hunt Tom set up before his death, solving it gives her purpose—and following the trail leads to a second chance at love. Stone’s masterful tale does not shy away from the messiness of grief, resulting in a complex and emotional story that tugs on every heartstring. Readers should have tissues at the ready. Agent: Sarah Hornsley, Peters Fraser + Dunlop. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Runaway Groomsman

Meghan Quinn. Montlake, $12.95 trade paper (488p) ISBN 978-1-5420-3500-2

This charming rom-com from Quinn (The Wedding Game) kicks off when screenwriter Sawyer Castle is pressured into being a groomsman at the wedding of his ex-girlfriend and ex–best friend, who had an affair—and who happen to be costarring in Sawyer’s latest romance. Sawyer thinks he’ll be able to hold it together, but ends up causing a scene when he flips off the happy couple and storms out of the church, landing him in hot water with the studio. Pressured to come up with his next great romance movie, he retreats to California’s Canoodle Cove Cabins to work. There he runs into ER nurse Fallon Long, who’s too busy caring for her grandfather Sully, who has Alzheimer’s, renovating the cabins Sully owns, and navigating a tepid long-distance relationship, to be offended that Sawyer doesn’t remember her from their one disastrous blind date years before. When Sully mistakes Sawyer for a contractor, Sawyer plays along, finding the work cathartic and enjoying how “real” everyone is. Inevitably, Sawyer and Fallon grow closer, but neither will disrespect her existing relationship by making a move. Quinn handles hearts with care in this tender love triangle. A diverse cast, solid friendships, and some laugh-out-loud moments only enhance proceedings. This is sure to please. Agent: Aimee Ashcraft, Brower Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2022 | Details & Permalink

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A Christmas House Wedding

Victoria James. Alcove, $16.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-63910-102-3

Bestseller James’s cozy sequel to The Christmas House delivers holiday atmosphere worthy of a Hallmark movie, a romance to root for, and grounded family drama. Olivia Harris returned home to Silver Springs , the site of her Grandma Ruby’s charming Christmas House Bed and Breakfast, following her divorce a year ago. A newly single mother with a toddler to take care of, Olivia’s been working hard to open the dance studio that will be her primary source of income. Now—six weeks before her January grand opening—her contractor quits. Family friend Scott Martin, the widowed father of a teenage girl, happens to be a contractor and offers to help. It seems too good to be true; if Olivia’s past relationship taught her anything, it’s that she can’t trust a handsome man’s kindness. Scott, of course, has baggage of his own, but, though both are wary, they can’t deny their connection. A charming subplot provides a double dose of romance as Grandma Ruby prepares for her Christmas wedding to a long-lost love. The complex family dynamics make for meaty discussions even as, thankfully, James never allows the family drama to distract from the love story. This is a welcome series installment. Agent: Louise Fury, Bent Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Situationship

Marina Adair. Kensington, $16.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2768-8

Adair (RomeAntically Challenged) reunites a single mother with her high school sweetheart for a super sweet second-chance romance. After Teagan Bianchi’s gambling-addict husband, Frank, completely ruins both their shared bakery business and Teagan’s credit score, she files for divorce, gathers her adorable four-year-old twins, Poppy and Lily, and her overly exuberant dog, Garbage Disposal, and heads for her bucolic hometown of Pacific Grove, Calif., where she moves in to her late grandmother’s house with her free-spirited sister, Harley. She’s not expecting her high school boyfriend, veterinarian single father Colin West, to still live right next door. Colin’s dealing with his own issues, including an overbearing and heartless boss and a daughter, Maddison, who’s about to head off to college. The last thing he needs is to fall for Teagan all over again, but he does—and the feeling is mutual. But can their relationship survive when Frank follows Teagan to town? Adair’s characters jump off the page, inviting readers to care deeply about their happy endings. Alternating between laugh-out-loud funny moments often driven by the children and more poignant beats, this charming, squeaky clean romance will delight fans old and new. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Marlowe Banks, Redesigned

Jacqueline Firkins. Griffin, $16.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-83650-2

Firkins’s uneven adult debut (after How Not to Fall in Love) finds costume designer Marlowe Banks having fled New York’s theater scene, and her ex-fiancé, for a fresh start on the set of TV soap Heart’s Diner. Her production assistant job doesn’t utilize her skills, but it does shield her from the harsh critiques she’s come to fear. That is, until she’s forced to fill in as a background actor for a day, placing her near the show’s brooding star, Angus Gordon, with whom she disastrously collided earlier that same day. She’s happy to leave her brush with stardom—and Angus’s intense stare—in the past, but when the episode airs, a tricky bit of editing turns their obvious dislike into sexual tension and sends fans clamoring for more. Despite some false starts, Marlowe and Angus bond as production forces them to spend more time together. Both feel a connection, but Marlowe quickly learns she may not be ready for the scrutiny that comes with dating a star. Though the main couple has chemistry to spare, the rest of the story falls flat in comparison; the backstory behind Marlowe’s life in New York comes too late and feels too tepid to make readers invested in her personal growth. It’s a shaky start, but Firkins shows some promise. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2022 | Details & Permalink

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A Very Merry Bromance

Lyssa Kay Adams. Berkley, $17 trade paper (386p) ISBN 978-0-593-33279-5

It’s time for the famous men of Nashville’s Bromance Book Club, who last appeared in Adams’s Isn’t it Bromantic?, to read a Christmas romance in this fun holiday romp. Country music superstar Colton Wheeler would be excited, if only his career weren’t at a standstill—and if he weren’t nursing heartache over immigration lawyer Gretchen Winthrop. After meeting at a mutual friend’s wedding, the pair spent one unforgettable night together—which, to Colton’s mind, was not enough. When they’re thrown back together by Gretchen’s immensely privileged family, Colton finally has a chance to show her how much more they could have. Gretchen’s finding it difficult to enjoy the Christmas season while her clients are struggling just to stay in the country, and Colton is determined to raise her spirits—with help from the book club and the knowledge they’ve gleaned from their Christmas romance “manual.” Slowly, his easy charm and enthusiasm for the Christmas traditions she never experienced with her cold, distant family warm her chilly heart. The romance-loving men that give the series its name are a reliable joy, and fans will be especially pleased by all the cameos from past heroes. The result is cute, funny, and heartfelt. Agent: Tara Gelsomino, One Track Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Home Sweet Christmas

Susan Mallery. HQN, $17.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-335-93400-0

Interweaving two heartfelt love stories, Mallery expertly captures a festive yuletide spirit in her sparkling second Wishing Tree novel (after The Christmas Wedding Guest). Camryn Neff left her life in Chicago to return to small-town Wishing Tree, Wash., and take care of her teenage sisters after their mother’s death. While running her family’s custom gift-wrapping business, Camryn is selected by local matron Helen Crane as one of the candidates for “Project: Jake’s Bride,” a mission Helen’s embarked on to marry off her son. Camryn quickly rejects the idea of being involved—and spills the beans to Jake about his mother’s scheming. As their friendship blossoms into love, Camryn must question her life plans, having never intended to settle in Wishing Tree for good. Meanwhile, River Best, a transplant from Southern California who’s turned her computer hacking skills into a legitimate business, is chosen at an annual festival to be the town’s Snow Queen, and is drawn out of her shell by Dylan Tucker, the newly crowned Snow King. Love soon follows, but a secret Dylan’s keeping may threaten their happiness. Mallery highlights the charm and community of her inviting small-town setting while still exploring grounded real-life issues. Add in undeniable Christmas cheer, and this feel-good holiday romance proves irresistible. Agent: Annelise Robey, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Christmas Wish

Lindsey Kelk. HarperCollins, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-00-854464-5

Infusing the romance of the Christmas season with the humor of Groundhog Day and a dash of Bridget Jones’s hopelessness, Kelk (On a Night Like This) delivers an utterly adorable rom-com. London lawyer Gwen Baker is newly single and fears she’s about to be unemployed when she heads back to her small hometown of Baslow for Christmas. The Bakers have a tradition: whoever finds the sixpence in the Christmas pudding gets to make a wish—and this year, the magic proves all too real as whoever makes the wish leaves Gwen stuck reliving Christmas day. As she repeats the same 24 hours over and over, she searches for a way out of the time loop all while learning valuable lessons about relationships with family, friends, and her childhood crush, Dev. With very British sensibilities and culture, the story is less focused on Gwen’s budding relationship with Dev and more on her personal growth journey as she comes to realize that when times get tough she can count on her entire family to put her in her place—and lift her up. It’s a delectable, if slightly twee, confection. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail

Ashley Herring Blake. Berkley, $17 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-33642-7

This sexy and heartfelt queer rom-com, the second in Blake’s Bright Falls series (after Delilah Green Doesn’t Care), stars Astrid Parker, a “baby bisexual” interior designer who’s at loose ends after splitting from her “golden boy” fiancé. Then she meets the equally lost-in-life Jordan Everwood, a tarot-reading “soft-butch” carpenter whose purportedly haunted family inn in Bright Falls, Ore., Astrid will be remodeling for an HGTV show. The women are initially at odds due to clashing personalities and design sensibilities, but Blake puts a twist on the enemies-to-lovers trope when they realize that they’re stronger together and begin secretly collaborating on the redesign without the knowledge of the TV crew. Though some of the secondary cast, including Astrid’s mother and Jordan’s ex, undergo character changes that happen too abruptly to feel natural, Astrid and Jordan themselves are impressively well-rounded, coming across as simultaneously rude, sarcastic, and short-tempered, and caring, devoted, and kind, rather than going from one extreme to the other. Returning readers will be delighted to revisit Bright Falls and any romance fan will thrill at the sexual and emotional gratification on offer here. Agent: Rebecca Podos, Rees Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2022 | Details & Permalink

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