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Owner of a Broken Heart

Cheris Hodges. Dafina, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2384-0

The scorching first romance in the Richardson Sisters series from Hodges (Deadly Rumors) sees sportswriter Nina Richardson retreat to her hometown of Charleston, S.C., after being caught in a social media firestorm and dumped by her boyfriend. Marketing manager Clinton Jefferson has always admired Nina’s father, the owner of a successful B and B, and he’s not about to let his attraction to Nina blow his shot at working for him. Nina is equally resolved to ignore her chemistry with her father’s latest hire, burnt out on heartbreak and scolded by her older sisters to be more careful with her affections. But their determination to keep things professional lasts all of two seconds before they fall into bed. The sexual tension is palpable as Nina and Clinton navigate their desire and doubt, but readers will long for more of an emotional connection to accompany the lust. More impressive is Hodges’s characterization of Nina’s two sisters, each of whom is strong-willed, unique, and sure to provide fodder for future installments. Sizzling love scenes and a strong sense of family will have readers returning for the next in the series. Agent: Amanda Leuk, Spencer Hill and Associates. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Stars May Rise and Fall

Estella Mirai. Estella Mirai, $17.99 trade paper (388p) ISBN 978-1-68454-753-1

The turbulent romantic connection between two musicians is at the heart of Mirai’s fluid, well-plotted debut, a loose retelling of The Phantom of the Opera set in the year 2000. La Rose Verboten is a visual kei band, the Japanese equivalent of glam rock. After playing a gig in Tokyo, the band’s 22-year-old drummer, Teru, meets 36-year-old Rei, a reclusive, mask-wearing songwriter whose career as a visual kei star ended after a car accident crushed his arm and severely burned his face. Rei promises to make Teru a star, offering him private vocal coaching and arranging for La Rose Verboten’s singer to be ousted and for Rei to take his place. As the band’s popularity grows, Teru struggles to understand his simultaneous attraction to Rei and disgust at his scarred skin, a revulsion that will disappoint sensitive readers. Rei’s attempts to regulate Teru’s life become overly controlling, but his slowly revealed backstory will help readers understand, if not sympathize, with his actions. Though the dynamic of their relationship is murky, the way the complicated characters cope with believable pain provides a window into a fascinating subculture. This competent tale will appeal to fans of gay romance who don’t mind a bit of darkness in their love stories. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Every Bit a Rogue

Adrienne Basso. Zebra, $7.99 mass market (327p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4622-6

Love hides in plain sight in Basso’s delightful fourth Ellingham Regency (after A Little Bit Sinful). Artistically minded Emma Ellingham, younger sister to the heroines of the previous novels, attends what was supposed to be the wedding of Viscount Jon Burwell, whose fiancée abandons him at the altar. Emma can sympathize: the object of her girlhood infatuation rejected her as well. One year later, Emma stumbles on the reclusive viscount tinkering in his workshop, which neighbors her brother-in-law’s estate. A storm traps the pair in the workshop overnight, an innocent sleepover that would cause a scandal were it to get out. But when Jon’s ex-fiancée’s new husband turns up murdered the next morning, Emma must come forward to provide Jon’s alibi. To save Emma’s reputation from ruin, the two wed and vow to make the marriage a “true union” despite both fearing their spouse yearns for a previous lover. Though readers will be disappointed the murder mystery goes unresolved, the honorable protagonists’ chemistry and gradual growth toward emotional maturity is deeply satisfying. This rousing romance will enchant series fans and win over new readers. Agent: Pam Hopkins, Hopkins Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Un-Queen

Fiona West. Tempest and Kite, $14.99 trade paper (424p) ISBN 978-1-7328774-5-0

This lighthearted sequel to The Ex-Princess shifts the focus from a sweeping exploration of its technocratic fantasy world to a domestic royal romance. Runaway Princess Abelia of matriarchal Brevspor and King Edward of Orangiers fell in love while working to save Orangiers from Edward’s usurper brother, Lincoln. Now their wedding is fast approaching and free-spirited Abbie must weigh life with the man she loves against the reality of leaving behind her job, best friends, and apartment for a life in which she’ll be open to public scrutiny and dogged by a security detail. Recently diagnosed with lupus, Abbie faces larger challenges of learning to live with her illness, overcoming her pride, and allowing her fiancé to help her cope. West’s characterization of Abbie explores with astute compassion the thin line between her fantasy-heroine toughness and stubborn self-sabotage, but the brunt of the actual plot is taken up by Abbie and Edward’s pre-wedding lust and immature bickering. None of the couple’s difficulties—including a cursory subplot about Lincoln threatening Abbie’s life—is substantial enough to unify this slice-of-life romance. Though readers will delight in returning to this rich universe, they’ll long for more story. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Shall We Dance?

Shelley Shepard Gray. Blackstone, $15.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-982658-52-6

A dance instructor discovers family and romance in the cozy first installment of the Dance with Me series from Gray (Hold on Tight). Sisters Shannon, Traci, and Kimber Murphy were adopted by three different families as young children following the death of their mother. They reconnect as adults, agreeing to move in together in Bridgeport, Ohio, to try to forge a relationship. Traci, a cop, transfers to the Bridgeport police department, Kimber continues her modeling career, and Shannon pursues her dream of opening a dance studio. Shannon’s first private dance student is Dylan Lange, Traci’s partner on the police force, who only signs up for lessons because he lost a bet. Shannon can’t deny her chemistry with Dylan and admires his commitment to his sister, Jennifer, who is recovering from a brutal attack. As she and Dylan grow closer, the Murphy sisters befriend Jennifer, helping her regain her independence, until a misunderstanding creates a tumultuous rift between families. Gray draws readers in from the first page with charming small-town atmosphere and magnetic, well-developed characters. This lighthearted love story will appeal to genre fans who appreciate sweet, PG-13 romances. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, the Seymour Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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You Deserve Each Other

Sarah Hogle. Putnam, $16 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-08542-4

With a narrator readers will either love or hate, Hogle’s over-the-top debut takes the progression of lovers-to-enemies (and back to lovers) to an unbelievable extreme. Almost two years after Naomi Westfield and Nicholas Rose’s first date, the picture perfect couple is engaged and Nick’s overbearing mother, Deborah, is planning their wedding. Naomi despises Deborah and Nick can’t stand Naomi’s artsy work friends. And Nick and Naomi have grown to loath one another as well, but kept that secret since neither can break the engagement without incurring massive bills and embarrassment. Instead, they embark on an all-out prank war as each tries to get the other to end things first. Though the couple’s shenanigans are written as humorous fun that help them rediscover the joy of their relationship and slowly bring them back together, the pranks themselves frequently verge on gaslighting and actual cruelty: Naomi sabotages Nick’s business and breaks his phone, Nick berates Naomi and dangles the potential of him having an affair in her face. Hogle has a gift for detail and narrative flow, but many readers will grow frustrated by Naomi’s voice, which alternates between snarkiness and whininess. This rom-com is not for the faint of heart. Agent: Jennifer Grimaldi, Chalberg & Sussman. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Headliners

Lucy Parker. Carina, $8.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-335-21599-4

The real action is behind the scenes in Parker’s cute fifth London Celebrities show business romance (after The Austen Playbook). When footage of TV newscaster Nick Davenport bad-mouthing his boss goes viral, he loses his prime time slot and is forced to cohost a floundering morning show with his rival, razor-tongued Sabrina Carlton. Sabrina is still reeling from Nick breaking the story of a humiliating Carlton family scandal, but her hatred of him must take a backseat to her career goals. Both determined to rehabilitate their images, they paste on TV smiles and play nice, leading them to discover that they actually like each other. When a series of unexplained mishaps occur on set, Nick and Sabrina realize that someone is sabotaging them, and a drunken hookup at an industry wedding leads to public speculation about their relationship and paparazzi tailing their every move. Nick and Sabrina support each other through accidents and scandal that range from hilarious to dangerous. The couple’s transition from contention to contentment as they learn to love each other is smooth and believable. Romance fans will root for this sweet, saucy relationship. Agent: Elaine Spencer, The Knight Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/20/2019 | Details & Permalink

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How to Love Your Elf

Kerrelyn Sparks. Kensington, $15.95 trade paper (328p) ISBN 978-1-4967-3004-6

Sparks launches the Embraced by Magic series with a boisterous return to the magical lands of Aerthlan, the setting of her Embraced series. Feisty human Princess Sorcha, who possesses the ability to control fire (a talent that goes woefully underutilized), grew up with four adoptive sisters in a convent for the magically gifted. When Sorcha’s half-elf adoptive sister Princess Gwenmore of Woodwyn, who is pregnant with the human king of Norveshka’s heir, sets off on a diplomatic journey to address the long-standing conflict between the humans and the elves, Sorcha accompanies Gwen as her bodyguard. Their party is ambushed, but Sorcha and her companions are rescued by the Woodsman, an elfin Robin Hood–like figure who possesses the power to talk to trees. Sorcha has always been determined to resist romance, but Gwen once prophesied that Sorcha would fall in love with an elf and her instant attraction to the Woodsman makes Sorcha wonder if the prediction may come true. Sparks fly between them even as the mounting tension between species threatens to break into all-out war. Satisfying chemistry, a playful sense of adventure, and the threat of more danger to come keep the pages turning. Readers will revel in this fun, fast-paced fantasy romance. Agent: Michelle Grajkowski, 3 Seas Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/20/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Wild, Wild Rake

Janna MacGregor. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-29601-6

MacGregor delivers a passionate, tumultuous sixth Cavensham Heiresses Regency romance (after Rogue Most Wanted). Lady Avalon Warwyk, a Cavensham by birth, is married to a brutish husband who humiliates her by running off with a prostitute, leaving Avalon alone to raise their infant son, Thane. A decade later, Avalon, now a widow, uses her fortune to help women who want to get out of the sex trade. The Earl of Larkton, a good friend of Avalon’s late husband, grows suspicious of Avalon’s involvement with women he views as disreputable and sends his younger brother, vicar and reputed rake Devan Farris, to spy on her. Devan witnessed Avalon at her lowest moment years before, and the strength she showed in her misery earned his admiration. Avalon still thinks of Devan as the man who taunted her with the nickname Lady Warlock, but she slowly comes to see his true nature. Though Avalon’s insecurities and indecision occasionally grow tedious, unexpected twists, hot sex, and a sweetheart of a hero will keep readers’ attention. This tantalizing love story is a solid series entry. Agent: Pamela Ahearn, The Ahearn Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/20/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Scot Under the Covers

Suzanne Enoch. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-29640-5

The flawless second Regency era romance in Enoch’s Wild Wicked Highlanders series (after It’s Getting Scot in Here) hinges on a pair of enemies turned lovers who gamble with both their money and their hearts. Miranda Harris has always loathed games of chance, and her hatred only grows when her brother trades her hand in marriage to clear his gambling debt. Miranda would rather go to debtor’s prison than marry the odious Capt. Robert Vale, but before she resigns herself to a cell, she tries her hand at winning her freedom back, reluctantly seeking the help of handsome master gambler Aden MacTaggert. In order to keep parental funds flowing into his Highland estate, Aden must marry a London-bred woman. He agrees to teach Miranda about gambling ostensibly in exchange for lessons on London manners that will help him meet a match, but really because he’s charmed by witty, outspoken Miranda and hopes to turn her disdain for him into affection. High stakes, spirited characters, and off-the-charts chemistry keep the pages turning as Enoch balances humor, heat, and tension. This is Highland romance done right. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/20/2019 | Details & Permalink

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