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Behind These Doors

Jude Lucens. Greenwose, $3.99 e-book (393p) ISBN 978-1-912734-00-9

This heartbreaking Edwardian queer romance is set against the backdrop of the fight for women’s suffrage, a societal upheaval that mirrors the characters’ struggle. In 1906 London, Aubrey Fanshawe, an earl’s second son, is out at the theater with his longtime secret lovers, spouses Henrietta and Rupert Hernedale, when the trio meet gossip journalist Lucien Saxby. Aubrey takes Lucien home for what both men expect to be a one-night stand. When Edgar Lowdon, Henrietta’s older brother, thinks Lucien is very inappropriately hitting on the married Henrietta, the Hernedales insist on befriending Lucien to save his reputation and livelihood; thrown into proximity, Aubrey and Lucien find themselves falling in love. Lucien struggles with dating a member of the “nob” class while Aubrey grapples with his dislike of Lucien’s profession. Eventually, their relationship poses a threat not only to Aubrey’s social standing but to all of his romantic ties, old and new. While the men are all angst-riddled, the women know what they want and fight for it, contributing to a well-constructed subplot about the suffrage movement. It’s so challenging for these characters to find happiness, both in private and in society, that the aura of tragedy diminishes the stronger aspects of characterization and setting. Readers who don’t mind a lot of emotional pain mixed into their romantic stories will find this one worth reading. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Breaking His Rules

Aliza Mann. Loveswept, $4.99 e-book (276p) ISBN 978-1-984800-15-2

The hero of this captivating and charming contemporary romance, blond Brit Ashton Lyle, is a self-described playboy who uses a list of 10 rules to keep hookups from turning into romantic relationships. All of that goes out the window after he encounters Terra Ellis at a Detroit restaurant. When he comes up behind Terra, a street-smart black woman who grew up in a tough Detroit neighborhood, to ask her for her phone number, her fighting instincts kick in and she breaks his nose. Naturally, they’re inseparable after that. She also tries to keep things casual, mentioning neither that she owns a popular bar (Ashton thinks she’s a waitress there) nor that her awful ex, Marcus, keeps badgering her for money; but when Marcus does something unthinkable, Terra and Ashton realize they can’t let their pasts ruin their present. Mann blends comedic elements and tight emotional drama with the delicate developing romance. Readers who get past the clunky opening will find this a solid and enjoyable story. Agent: Sara Megibow, Megibow Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Forever Wolf

Maria Vale. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-6193-1

Vale’s third Legends of All Wolves paranormal romance (after A Wolf Apart) brings the conflicts from both within and outside the Great North Pack to satisfying peaks, in a powerful story about the nature of belonging and the relationship between love, law, and duty. Werewolf Varya, “the Indurate Timursdottir, Alpha Shielder of the 12th Echelon,” is fiercely loyal to the Pack. She develops a deep fondness for Eyulf, an injured lone white wolf she discovers while patrolling, but must keep him hidden because his mismatched eyes represent a fearful omen of the end of days. Meanwhile, incursions by human hunters into Pack territory can no longer be controlled, and some Pack wolves want to acquiesce to the violent Shifters’ demand to breed with Pack females and raise children no longer tied to the cycles of the Iron Moon, while others see that approach as sacrificing all that it means to be wolf. Vale balances tender romantic and familial love with a thrilling helping of bloody dominance clashes, and readers of the series will find characters from the earlier stories grown gracefully into their power. This a fitting capstone to the three-book arc, with the door left ajar for further stories. Agent: Heather Jackson, Heather Jackson Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Sand Creek Serenade

Jennifer Uhlarik. Smitten Historical Romance, $14.99 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-946016-85-0

Love may conquer all, but it cannot overcome the historical atrocities of the 1864 Sand Creek massacre, which forms the foundation of Uhlarik’s jingoistic first full-length novel. Trained by her physician father, Sadie Hoppner practices medicine at Fort Lyon in Colorado Territory. Sadie is fascinated by the Native tribes gathered around the fort to negotiate a peace with the U.S. government, especially a young French-Cheyenne brave named Five Kills, whom she is called upon to treat. Five Kills and Sadie find enough language in common to begin a relationship that threatens the stability of both their worlds, especially when the soldiers at the fort are ordered to open fire on the camps of sleeping Natives, slaughtering women, children, and the elderly. Uhlarik’s research is sound and her characters are intriguing, but the story exonerates the white characters with worrying ease, consciously downplaying the violence and trauma of the massacre and indirectly conflating 19th-century Native Americans with contemporary militant terrorists by (according to an author’s note) drawing on the experiences of ISIS members to inform Five Kills’s character. This well-constructed story is undone by its imperialistic themes and exploitation of devastating historical events. Agent: Julie Gwinn, Seymour Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Art of Three

Erin McRae and Racheline Maltese. Avian30, $4.99 e-book (328p) ISBN 978-1-946192-06-6

McRae and Maltese (After the Gold) perfectly craft a triad romance for sophisticated but escapist polyamorous romance readers who embrace the notion that “complicated is what life and love is.” The tale features leads who are good at solving their own drama by thoughtful self-correction; there’s little explicit sex but lots of explicit relationship negotiation. Middle-aged movie actor Callum Griffith-Davies indulges his interest in young costar Jamie Conway with the blessing of Callum’s artist wife, Nerea. As Callum and Jamie’s fling grows into a relationship, Nerea falls in love with Jamie herself during an extended visit in Callum’s London flat. The three lovers must figure out the terms of their multifaceted romance while managing full family lives and the obnoxious sensationalist press. All three get time in the spotlight to focus on their individual perspectives, but McRae and Maltese never let them wallow in worry about what the others are thinking about them. This purely feel-good story is a refreshing representation of ethical nonmonogamy. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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How to Marry a Highlander

Michele Sinclair. Kensington, $7.99 mass market (345p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3884-9

Sinclair heats up the 14th-century Scottish Highlands in her lusty eighth McTiernays novel. After rousing and arousing verbal sparring and some steamy skinny dipping starts a secret liaison between feisty red-haired Adanel and mysterious, “incredibly good-looking” soldier Dugan, these kindred spirits discover their liaison is forbidden: she’s a Mackbaythe and he serves their enemies, the McTiernays. Their flaming passion is nearly quenched by mutual distrust. He’s an experienced lover who’s sworn never to fall in love, though her spirited beauty makes him question that vow. She’s been too long without a lover and falls for Dugan quickly, but she also pragmatically wants a commitment that will allow her to escape her vicious father. Sinclair’s robust, well-researched plot, which hinges on the happenings at Highland shipping ports, provides authenticity as the reluctant couple overcomes opposing clan loyalties, earlier betrayals by rotten relatives, and the grim necessity of building a new McTiernay lairdship together in spite of a filthy castle and hostile former Mackbaythes. Heartfelt soul-searching, energetic weapon-wielding, and breathless lust make this an irresistible Highland fling. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Logan’s Lady

Rosanne Bittner. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-7349-1

Bittner (The Last Outlaw) beautifully evokes the beauty and hardships of life in the late-19th-century American West as a British aristocrat falls for a hardened bounty hunter in this spellbinding historical. Lady Elizabeth Baylor and her brother, William, travel across the Atlantic with plans to settle in Denver, Colo. They are befriended by Sir Robert Alexander during the crossing, and after William falls overboard and drowns, Robert agrees to accompany Elizabeth to Denver. En route, Elizabeth learns that Robert has entrusted someone else with her jewels and money, and he tries to rape her. She shoots him and is left to fend for herself in Abilene, Kans., where the sheriff arrests her for Robert’s murder. Logan Best, a handsome, well-known bounty hunter, is searching for Robert, and when he learns Elizabeth’s story, he convinces the sheriff to release her, certain that she acted in self-defense. Elizabeth hires Logan to help track down her valuables, and insists on accompanying him. The witty banter between Logan and Elizabeth adds allure to their relationship, and as she adapts to life on the trail, he admires her beauty and tenacity. Bittner makes an implausible premise feel absolutely real, showing how two very different characters can make compromises and find love. Fast-paced, touching, and sensual, this historical is not to be missed. Agent: Maura Kye-Casella, Don Congdon Assoc. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Learning Curves

Ceillie Simkiss. Ceillie Simkiss, $2.99 e-book (70p) ASIN B07FDFMGKP

In this middling debut novella by journalist Simkiss, two female graduate students at the University of North Carolina meet in class and develop a friendship that blossoms into love just in time for Christmas. Through lackluster dialogue, Simkiss delineates the differences between the two women: Elena, a curvaceous, Puerto Rican lesbian in law school, comes from a large Catholic family, while Cora, short, white, asexual, and enrolled in the business school, hails from a small Methodist family and has ADHD. The women’s attraction grows steadily through library study sessions, dancing in a surprise snow storm, bonding over cooking, and simply understanding each other. For example, knowing that Elena likes quiet, Cora comes to her rescue when Elena’s teenage cousins turn her apartment into a dance hall. The only point of conflict, Elena telling her family about Cora’s ADHD without permission, resolves quickly, while the suspense revolves around Elena’s willingness to be in a nonsexual relationship. The depiction of mutual affection and familial acceptance results in a sweet love story, and readers looking for tenderness without drama will be charmed. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Anything for His Baby

Michelle Major. Harlequin Special Edition, $5.75 mass market (224p) ISBN 978-1-335-57371-1

Major’s pleasant, if not heart-pounding, contemporary, set in her Crimson, Colo., milieu (Coming Home to Crimson), is only nominally about a toddler in need of a nanny. Paige Harper mistakenly thought her grandmother would leave her the Bumblebee Bed-and-Breakfast, which would provide her with a new start outside of Denver. She feels smothered by her history as a cancer survivor and needs to escape. But when her mother inherits the inn and sells it without notice, Paige is dismayed. She makes a deal with the buyer, hotel developer Shep Bennet (whose twin brother, Cole, featured in an earlier series installment): she’ll watch his young daughter in exchange for a chance to open the Bumblebee and earn enough to buy it back. As she works to prepare the inn, Paige and Shep progress from arguing and negotiating to appreciating and supporting each other as mild barriers, such as a corporate rival trying to prevent Shep from selling back the inn, delay them from cementing their relationship. The plot is a bit formulaic and the dreadfully old-fashioned title may put off some readers, but Major writes reliable grown-up romances, and Paige and Shep’s story is worth an afternoon’s time. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Believe in Me

Ella Quinn. Zebra, $7.99 mass market (374p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4520-5

In the largely unremarkable sixth Worthingtons Regency (after You Never Forget Your First Earl), Quinn tells the story of two people who must decide whether responsibilities and dreams can make room for love. Phinn and Augusta are forced by their families to attend London soirees in hopes of finding a marriage match. Phinn’s family needs him to marry and produce the heir who will carry on the family name, but he wants to continue his travels around the world. Augusta’s mother wants her to give up her dream of attending university in Italy and marry instead. They hit it off and Phinn proposes, but Augusta says no because he doesn’t love her. Determined to convince her, Phinn follows her to her vacation in France, doing all he can to prove his love. The story lacks excitement, and Augusta’s inability to realize that Phinn loves her is difficult to believe. However, the descriptions of European settings and the restrictions of Regency society add enough interest to entertain. This installment will mostly interest series fans. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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