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Imperfect Strangers (Imperfect #5)

Mary Frame. Mary Frame, $2.99 e-book (250p) ASIN B07GV4PNVN

Ghostly noises accidentally throw idiosyncratic executive assistant Bethany Connell into the arms of pro football player Brent Crawford in Frame’s witty fifth Imperfect contemporary. Bethany has fled her difficult family and is now living alone in New York City, working for irascible, misogynist executive Albert Crawford, and terrified of recurring creepy sounds in her apartment. Brent, Albert’s son, is dealing poorly with a troubling medical issue while fending off his father’s attempts to get him married, but he takes time to befriend attractive Bethany, and they investigate the weird wall knocking together. They swiftly become realistically close through quirky, punny repartee and their mutual devotion to true crime stories. Though at first they both believe a romance is ill-advised, and several outside conflicts fling up barriers, openness prevails and intimate confessions result in an appealing, believable relationship. The mystery-sounds plot resolves more clumsily. Frame’s charming, zany rom-com will appeal to fans of screwball comedies. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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His Wicked Secret (League of Rogues #8)

Lauren Smith. Lauren Smith, $4.99 e-book (312p) ASIN B07DMR29ZY

Smith’s pleasing eighth League of Rogues Regency (after Earl of Pembroke) delights with a strong female protagonist who decides that she wants more from life than merely marrying well. Audrey Sheridan, youngest sister of Viscount Sheridan, has written the “Lady Society” gossip column since she turned 15. Now 19, she wants to become a spy. Meanwhile, she’s under pressure to land a husband. Though Audrey is attracted to Jonathan St. Laurent, the half-brother of the Duke of Essex, she isn’t sure whether his feelings toward her are more than just a passing interest. When Audrey and her maid, Gillian, embark on an escapade to gather clandestine information and expose members of a secret club for highly placed men with questionable tastes, the adventure goes awry and they are rescued by Jonathan, along with James Fordyce, the Earl of Pembroke. As Jonathan assists Audrey with the self-defense skills necessary for spy work, their mutual attraction grows, but frequent misunderstandings as to the nature of their relationship come to the forefront. Espionage, an undercurrent of mystery, and sensuous romance are at the heart of this page-turner, which hints at a future installment and will encourage readers to look for the previous books. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Cowboy Rebel (Longhorn Canyon #4)

Carolyn Brown. Forever, $7.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-5387-4871-8

Brown’s capable fourth Longhorn Canyon contemporary western romance (after Cowboy Brave) suggests that love can make even the baddest of bad boy cowboys want to settle down. In Longhorn Canyon, Tex., Tag Baker is starting up a ranch with his twin brother, Hud, and flirting with his sister Emily’s best friend, Nikki Grady, an ER nurse. Nikki is intensely attracted to Tag and his sexy cowboy swagger, but unwilling to get too involved with Tag and become just another notch on his bedpost. Tag also seems to court danger, though he’s trying to distance himself from his past association with a motorcycle gang, and he takes the lyrics of Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” as advice. Still, Tag’s kind and generous heart wins Nikki over, and she decides to take a chance on him. Sweet, sexy romance and a strong heroine elevate the story. Fans of romance series filled with small-town charm and a cast of supportive family and friends will appreciate this installment and seek out earlier ones. Agent: Erin Niumata,Folio Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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An Unconditional Freedom (The Loyal League #3)

Alyssa Cole. Kensington, $15.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4967-0748-2

Cole completes the Loyal League trilogy with a hopeful look at interracial romance during the Civil War. Daniel Cumberland, a detective for the pro-Union Loyal League, has recently been reliberated after he was kidnapped back into slavery. He wants to kill the men responsible for his suffering. Janeta Sanchez, descended from Cuban immigrants, has never truly understood her own tenuous relationship to slavery. Forced by her former lover to spy for the Confederacy, Janeta infiltrates the League and joins Daniel on a mission to uncover Britain’s involvement in the war. Janeta and Daniel’s love story is a slow burn as Daniel deals with the echoes of past trauma and Janeta learns the true meaning of slavery. Both characters have much more on their minds than romance, which is exactly what makes the romance so real. Neither is perfect, and they still see the good in each other. Even a slightly hurried ending can’t diminish this triumphant conclusion to an outstanding series that has redefined the possibilities of historical romance. Agent: Lucienne Diver, Knight Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Highland Earl (Lords of the Highlands #6)

Amy Jarecki. Forever, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1602-1

In Jarecki’s sixth Lords of the Highlands historical (after The Highland Renegade), a Scottish earl and the fiercely independent daughter of an English duke are surprised when marriage leads to love. The Earl of Mar is a widower with two young sons; he needs to marry well in order pay off his father’s creditors. He weds Lady Evelyn Pierrepont, the daughter of the Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull, because she has a large dowry. He has no idea that Evelyn is a spy for the Jacobite cause and her contact, Claude Dubois, has asked her to find out whether her new husband is loyal to the Jacobites or to Queen Anne. When Mar reveals that Dubois’s true allegiance is to King Louis of France, Evelyn realizes Dubois tricked her into believing he was a Jacobite, and Mar is furious at the whole scheme. Accused as traitors, Evelyn, Mar, and the boys flee to Scotland to evade the redcoats while Mar comes up with a plan to prove his innocence. Intense adventure mingles with sensuous love scenes. Fans of romance with strong, socially progressive heroines will thoroughly enjoy this novel. Agent: Elaine Spencer, Knight Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Plus One

Sarah Archer. Putnam, $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-525-53917-9

Archer’s upbeat but unsatisfying debut attempts to take on 20-something Silicon Valley dating and the idea of romantic perfection. Socially awkward roboticist Kelly Suttle, pressured by her family to find an appropriate date for her sister’s wedding, steals supplies from her office to create android Ethan as a temporary boyfriend. But Ethan turns out to be gorgeous, devoted, and charming, and she becomes attached to having him in her life. Kelly, however, struggles to create a functional care assistant robot for her job, which is baffling given the effortlessness with which she manufactures Ethan. Ethan’s public mistakes are played for a quick laugh, but he doesn’t get a growth arc as a character. Archer wastes her central idea, only telling the tired story of a woman pushed by everyone to find a man already, and fails to dig into the natural humor of the uncanny valley or the absurdity of trying to live with someone perfect. An essential goodness of heart shines through, but it’s not enough to save this uneven story. Agent: Sheila Crowley, Curtis Brown (U.K.). (July)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Ayesha at Last

Uzma Jalaluddin. Berkley, $16 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-984802-79-8

In this excellent modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, aspiring poet Ayesha Shamsi juggles her dreams and the stifling expectations of Toronto’s Indian-Muslim community. She picks a practical career as a high school teacher and watches as her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, collects marriage proposals like trading cards. After a misunderstanding, Ayesha pretends to be Hafsa while planning a youth conference, where she is required to collaborate with conservative Khalid, a newcomer to the area. Ayesha pegs Khalid as rigid and judgmental on their first meeting because of his white robes and reserved behavior. She doesn’t object to arranged marriages, but believes compatibility is important, and she scorns Khalid’s complacency with accepting his mother’s choice of bride. Family loyalty is a recurring theme, as Ayesha puts her hopes of being a poet on hold while she earns money to repay her wealthy uncle and Khalid refuses to question his overbearing mother. As Ayesha and Khalid work on the conference together, Khalid learns to accommodate different viewpoints. With humor and abundant cultural references, both manifest in the all-seeing all-criticizing aunty brigade, Jalaluddin cleverly illustrates the social pressures facing young Indian-Muslim adults. Jalaluddin stays true to the original Austen while tackling meatier issues likes workplace discrimination, alcoholism, and abortion. Even readers unfamiliar with Austen’s work will find this a highly entertaining tale of family, community, and romance. Agent: Ann Collette, Rees Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Fix Her Up (Hot and Hammered #1)

Tessa Bailey. HarperCollins, $14.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-287283-8

Small-town atmosphere permeates bestseller Bailey’s comedic contemporary visit to Port Jefferson, N.Y., where outstanding children’s birthday clown Georgie Castle reconnects with her lifelong crush, Travis Ford, a former star professional baseball player sidelined by an injury. His despair over the end of his career is fueled by lingering trauma from an unstable childhood. Meanwhile, Georgie, at age 23, is tired of being seen as the pesky little sister whose wants and needs are unimportant; even Travis, a close friend to Georgie’s older brother, still sees her as a kid. As Georgie helps Travis out of his pit of misery and into a deeply supportive, protective, and giving relationship, he gets into construction work and makes his way back into the world. Seeing Georgie with new eyes, and appreciating her straightforward, loving honesty, fuels his desire. Meanwhile, Georgie is inspired to seek a new look, expand her business, and bond with other women, especially her big sister. Delightfully intense and creative sex scenes and potent emotions will reward both fans and new readers alike. (June)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Sidelined

Suzanne Baltsar. Gallery, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-5011-8833-6

In this middling contemporary sports romance (after Trouble Brewing), a renowned football coach’s daughter gets the job everyone thought would go to a man, with mostly predictable consequences. Charlotte “Charlie” Gibb grew up studying football strategy and worked for her father at Georgia Tech. When she gets her first head coaching position at a high school, she is confronted by antagonism from her staff—including Connor McGuire, a history teacher and the team’s offensive coordinator, who expected to land the gig—as well as students and parents. Connor is impressed by Charlie’s football knowledge and surprised when their constant (and adolescent) sniping turns into stolen kisses and a secret relationship. Charlie comes across as immature, but her new friends and Connor’s loving family add depth. Readers may find it inappropriate that Charlie is romancing a direct report, and those cheering for Charlie to have both a coaching career and romance will be disappointed by the ending. There’s plenty of flirtatious banter to keep the plot moving, though, and even readers who aren’t sports fans can enjoy Charlie and Connor’s story. Agent: Sharon Pelletier, Dystel, Goderich, & Bourret. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Smitten by the Brit

Melonie Johnson. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-19305-6

Johnson’s second Sometimes in Love transatlantic contemporary puts a modern twist on the impoverished duke who needs to marry an heiress. Theo Wharton, Duke of Emberton, is in Chicago to meet the woman who is supposed to solve his money problems, but he would rather be with Bonnie Blythe, an English professor and self-professed Anglophile, whom he met when her friend Cassie fell for his friend Logan (in Getting Hot with the Scot). Theo is delighted to learn that Bonnie has broken her engagement with her cheating fiancé and is ready for some changes. A serendipitous connection leads to Bonnie landing a summer job in Cambridge, where she teaches Shakespeare, explores new career paths, and romps with Theo. The sexy escapades are a little predictable but still electric, and Theo’s dates with Bonnie around London are the stuff of romantic fantasies. As their friendship deepens, Theo helps Bonnie work through her anger at her ex, ensuring their sweet, steamy relationship is more than a rebound. The scenes with Bonnie and Theo’s families and sassy, blunt Cassie and Logan are rollicking fun and provide excellent grounding for the romance. This irreverent tale turns several romance tropes on their heads while still delivering that sweet fairy tale ending that readers look for. (May)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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