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The Love Square

Laura Jane Williams. Avon, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-00-841403-0

Williams (Our Stop) spins a touching rom-com about difficult romantic choices. Unlucky in love Penny Bridge, owner of a popular café in bougie North London, has been single for the past five years. But that changes when Francesco Cipolla, one of London’s most famous pastry chefs, walks into her café and the pair quickly hit it off. They begin dating and their relationship convinces Penny that love is possible—but then her beloved uncle has a heart attack, and Penny leaves both London and Francesco behind to take over her uncle’s gastro pub in the countryside. A perceived betrayal by Francesco before she leaves sours her feelings for him, making her receptive to the advances of Thomas, a former schoolmate she reconnects with, and Priyesh, the pub’s prim wine merchant. But as both men vie for her affections, Penny and Francesco tentatively start communicating again—and his surprise announcement that he’s coming to visit forces Penny to make a difficult decision. The complicated relationships will win over fans of love triangle tropes, and the unconventional dynamics of Penny’s close-knit family create plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. This is sure to please. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Yes & I Love You

Roni Loren. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $14.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-7282-2961-4

With this charming contemporary romance, Loren (The One for You) delivers a thoroughly satisfying, slow-burning account of a relationship that feels both inevitable and earned. New Orleans blogger Hollyn Tate is a local favorite as Miz Poppy, her nom de plume, but her Tourette’s syndrome and anxiety make it difficult to have a social life outside of her online persona. Then she meets part-time barista and improv actor Jasper Deares, who’s funny, hot, and totally into her, tics and all. Relationship-shy Jasper, who has ADHD, offers to be a “practice boyfriend” for lonely Hollyn, and the pair embark on an enthusiastic friends-with-benefits arrangement—though media-savvy Hollyn knows how this sort of plot usually works out. The sex is great, the companionship is a welcome change, and soon enough, the two catch real feelings for one another. But when success and stardom beckon, their individual careers threaten to tear them apart. Hollyn and Jasper have excellent chemistry, both socially and sexually, and they talk through their issues in a refreshingly mature fashion. Hollyn’s Tourette’s and Jasper’s ADHD are depicted sensitively without overwhelming the rest of the story, while a fleshed-out supporting cast further brings the world to life. Intelligent, sweet, and fun, this romance succeeds on all levels. Agent: Sara Megibow, KT Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Much Ado about You

Samantha Young. Berkley, $16 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-09948-3

Immaturity and angst overshadow the joy in this disappointing romance from Young (the On Dublin Street series). When 33-year-old Chicagoan Evangeline Starling is passed over for a promotion and stood up for dinner after a month of online flirtation, she quits her job and radically reevaluates her life, adopting the mantra “No more men who made me doubt myself. No more job that made me feel like a failure.” Conveniently, the owner of quaint English bookshop Much Ado About Books needs someone to mind her store for a month, and Shakespeare-obsessed Anglophile Evie jumps at the chance. She meets local Roane Robson after risking her life to save his beloved Great Dane from being hit by a car, instantly earning his respect. Roane is a charming, earnest suitor, and their meet-cute is lovely, but Evie herself is recycled from rom-com stereotypes. She meddles in local affairs like a modern-day Emma and is rewarded rather than criticized for her interference. Her incoherent resistance to romance, though, is a superficial salve for her insecurities and puts a serious damper on the love story. Though billed as a romantic comedy, there’s more melancholy than humor here, and not enough depth to back up the heavy emotions. This is a let down. Agent: Lauren Abramo, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Meet You in the Middle

Devon Daniels. Berkley, $16 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-19921-3

Daniels misfires in her tone-deaf rom-com debut. When Kate Adams, a liberal congressional staffer, pitches her conservative colleague Ben Mackenzie on a child care bill, he dismisses her out of hand, sparking a heated exchange. Their mutual ire leads to an immature prank war, but as they come to enjoy debating each another, their animosity evolves into grudging respect. Daniels hits all the expected beats of the enemies-to-lovers arc, but treating Ben and Kate’s arguments as foreplay strikes a sour note given that their differing opinions have nationwide consequences, and though they’re presented as equal sparring partners, Kate compromises her ideals far more frequently than Ben. Ben, meanwhile, treats Kate’s emotional response to politics as irrational, as when he takes a horrified Kate to a shooting range to try to change her stance on gun control, an outing that improbably ends in a steamy hookup. The result is that Ben reads like a condescending bully and Kate comes across as spineless rather than the “ballbuster” she’s repeatedly described as. The politics themselves are hazily sketched, and actual policy is kept conveniently vague. Readers will be unconvinced by this lopsided romance and its weak argument for separating the personal from the political. Agent: Kim Lionetti, Bookends Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Amish Midwives: Three Stories

Amy Clipston, Shelley Shepard Gray, and Kelly Long. Zondervan, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-310-36322-4

This trio of cozy romance novellas highlights an underexplored corner of Amish life: midwives who put taking care of other families ahead of building their own. Each romance creates a homey sense of community that will appeal to genre fans and features a sweet suitor who appreciates the value in the heroine’s work. Clipston’s playful “Bundles of Blessing” includes realistic details about working in a small community, but the years’ old miscommunication that drives the plot is rather pat, with too straightforward a villain to satisfy. Grey’s contemplative “A Midwife for Susie,” the strongest of the bunch, sees its heroine rebounding from a tragic delivery both professionally and personally, helped along by a supportive friend who may soon become something more. Long’s sweet and slightly frantic “Christmas Cradles” is a snow-dusted baby-fest, as a midwife races between deliveries and winds up sharing confidences with the handsome stranger serving as her driver through the long night. As a set, this mature, joyful anthology speaks to second chances while lifting up its female characters. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Jackson

LaQuette. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $8.99 mass market (360p) ISBN 978-1-4926-9453-3

A Texas Ranger falls for a do-gooder attorney in this sassy, suspenseful romance from LaQuette (Lies You Tell). Attorney Aja Everett transforms her family’s land in Fresh Springs, Tex., into Restoration Ranch, a retreat that will offer a second chance to ex-convicts. But when the ranch is vandalized and strange accidents on the property become increasingly dangerous and frequent, many try to pin the mischief on Aja’s ex-con employees. Aja refuses to believe her staff, who have become like family, could be involved, so Texas Ranger Jackson Dean and his team are sent in undercover to protect Aja and catch the true culprit. Physical attraction between Aja and Jackson is immediate, and emotional attachment soon follows, but they both have troubled pasts, and their lingering guilt and pain present roadblocks on their way to happily ever after. As their romance heats up, so does the mystery, with a vast list of subjects and a tangled maze of possible motives making it clear that all is not what it seems in Fresh Springs. Jackson and Aja are both headstrong and determined, making for an entertaining battle of wits, and LaQuette infuses the writing with Southern charm and humor. Readers will be eager to return to Fresh Springs. Agent: Latoya Smith, LCS Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Heiress Hunt

Joanna Shupe. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-304504-0

Shupe (the Uptown Girls series) opens her Fifth Avenue Rebels series with this effortlessly diverting Gilded Age romance. When Harrison Archer returns to New York City from France, his estranged and nearly bankrupt family insists he save the family business by marrying an heiress. Harrison has no interest in helping the people who cruelly disowned him—but on their list of potential wives is his childhood friend and rising tennis star, Maddie Webster, with whom Harrison has been in love since she was 15, and he seizes the opportunity to reconnect. Maddie, meanwhile, is being courted by a duke and fears scandal if she gives in to her attraction to Archer, having heard rumors of his wild Parisian lifestyle. But when Archer asks her to throw a house party for him in Newport, R.I., and invite her most eligible friends, she can’t say no. Shupe’s feisty heroine admirably strives for independence in a male-dominated society, while Archer is appealing not only for his devotion to Maddie, but for his fierce drive to avenge his family’s mistreatment of him. Their sexual chemistry and dynamic banter, especially during intimate moments, convey an alluring blend of love and playfulness. This character-driven historical romance is sure to delight. Agent: Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Strangers with Benefits

Johnny Townsend. BookLocker.com, $16.95 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-64718-518-3

Two Mormon missionaries have a lurid sexual awakening in this lumbering erotic romance from Townsend (I Will, Through the Veil). Eric Nelson and Brian Weber are assigned to spread the faith in 1988 New Orleans. During a storm, they knock on the door of Gabriel, who invites them out of the rain and offers to listen to their spiel if he can teach them about gay history in return. When Gabriel’s boyfriend, Henry, arrives home, the four men have a sexual encounter that exposes Eric and Brian’s true feelings and sets them on their erotic path. As Brian and Eric begin neglecting their church work to enjoy increasingly kinky sex with each other and a gamut of strangers, they also share their conflicted feelings about growing up in an inhospitable religion, providing the book’s emotional backbone. Not even a brush with pubic lice, nor their mission leaders’ growing suspicions, can slow them down as they begin starring in porn films and then turn to sex work. Revelations of secrets cause a few bumps as the pair drift toward their happy ending. The frequent sex scenes skimp on details, listing acts rather than describing sensations and so blunting their erotic edge. More jolting than arousing, this will most appeal to readers into camp and the outré. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Wolf After My Own Heart

Maryjanice Davidson. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $8.99 mass market (360p) ISBN 978-1-4926-9704-6

Davidson returns to the delightfully bonkers paranormal world of Bears Behaving Badly for this hilarious second BeWere My Heart romance. Lila Kai’s life has been a bumpy ride—so, though she is unaware of the supernatural, it gives her just a moment’s pause when she hits a wolf on the way into her new home in Lilydale, Minn., only to get out of the decommissioned ambulance she’s driving and see that there’s no body. She’s likewise unfazed when, moments later, two kids flag her down for medical assistance and lead her to an abandoned bear cub. Lila attempts to call animal control—but that’s not how things are done in the predominantly shifter community of Lilydale. Instead, her strange ride lands her in the path of Oz Adway, a wolf shifter, accountant, and the newest field agent for the IPA, a shifter protection organization. Oz is immediately curious about Lila—and just as quickly smitten. As a series of strange occurrences plague Lilydale, Lila, Oz, and a small band of local foster children land neck-deep in potentially lethal weirdness. Davidson sandwiches her trademark laugh-out-loud moments between somewhat heavier beats and stream-of-consciousness inner monologues. The result is as thought-provoking as it is funny and guaranteed to entertain. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg, Ethan Ellenberg Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Forever, Phoebe

Chalon Linton. Covenant Communications, $15.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-5244-1688-1

Linton follows Escape to Everly Manor with this enticing Regency romance set in Somerset, England. Eighteen-year-old Phoebe Jamison aspires to be a proper lady in hopes of attracting the attention of William Mason, a friend of one of her brothers, who sees Phoebe as a little sister, not a romantic prospect. In contrast, Franklin Everly, the recent inheritor of nearby Ravencrest, is immediately drawn to Phoebe’s fiery red hair and affable demeanor. When Franklin wins a wager against Phoebe’s three older brothers, it leads to him spending more time with the Jamison family, and as he becomes increasingly attracted to Phoebe he makes known his desire to court her. Though Phoebe still pines for William, she can’t deny she’s drawn to Franklin—especially after he risks his own life to save her from a horseback riding accident. And when a kidnapper known as the Bride Snatcher targets Phoebe’s friend Hannah, Phoebe is determined to rescue her, while Franklin will do whatever it takes to keep Phoebe safe. Linton’s appreciation for Jane Austen’s England shines through as the witty, intelligent characters navigate the strict rules of their society. This fast-paced, heartfelt romance is a treat. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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