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The Secret Service of Tea and Treason

India Holton. Berkley, $17 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-54726-7

Holton returns to a magic-infused Victorian London in her fiendishly clever third Dangerous Damsels romantic adventure (after The League of Gentlewoman Witches). When the Agency of Undercover Note Takers (A.U.N.T.) learns that a pirate is plotting to assassinate Queen Victoria, rival agents Alice Dearlove and Daniel Bixby must go undercover as a married couple to infiltrate the pirate’s house party and stop the scheme. As “professional heroes” who typically go it alone, they’re both wary about working with a partner—especially one they find so maddeningly attractive. The pair are surprised to find they have much in common, including their love of literary allusions and their levelheaded handling of curveballs lobbed at them by their salacious yet endearing pirate acquaintances. The longer they pretend to be in love, the more they actually fall for each other—but A.U.N.T. frowns on agents courting. As they descend further into the exciting and eccentric world of piratical hooliganism, Alice and Daniel must choose between their feelings and their duty. Holton’s signature tongue-in-cheek style shines, pairing dry wit with ludicrous situations to excellent effect. Alice and Daniel’s banter is a particular highlight, and their tender connection helps to ground all the action. This may be Holton’s best yet. Agent: Taylor Haggerty, Root Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Jana Goes Wild

Farah Heron. Forever, $16.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-5387-2545-0

Heron’s fun sequel to Kamila Knows Best takes readers to a destination wedding in Tanzania. Chronic introvert and overachiever Jana Suleiman has always played it safe—until she meets hunky Anil Malek and begins an international fling. Then she learns that Anil is still married to the wife he told her he’d split from. Devastated, she ends their affair—and only later does she learn that she’s pregnant with his child. Five years of strained co-parenting and avoidance later, the pair are reunited at the Tanzanian wedding of a mutual friend. Jana’s determined to steer clear of Anil, now single, while there, but she can’t help admiring his charm with their daughter, Imani. To distract herself, Jana whips up a “letting loose list” with her fellow bridesmaids, which includes items like wearing brighter colors and doing karaoke. As Jana loosens up, however, her resurfacing emotions for Anil become harder to ignore and she teeters on the precipice of falling back in love with her ex. The familial chemistry between Jana, Anil, and Imani is undeniable and the unique setting and delightful dynamic within the rest of the wedding party add to the charm. This is a treat. Agent: Rachel Brooks, BookEnds. (May)

Reviewed on 02/17/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Summer Reading

Jenn McKinlay. Berkley, $17 trade paper (480p) ISBN 978-0-593-54572-0

McKinlay’s charming latest (after It Happened One Christmas Eve) opens with a meet-cute no reader will forget and blooms into a multifaceted story replete with lovable characters, mouthwatering descriptions of food, and a vicarious vacation to Martha’s Vineyard. After up-and-coming Boston chef Samantha Gale is passed over for promotion by a boss who seems more concerned about her gender and her dyslexia than her qualifications, she quits her restaurant job and heads to her family’s summer home to spend a month licking her wounds while chaperoning her teenage half-brother. She’s not looking for romance, but when she meets Ben Reynolds, she can’t ignore their attraction. But Ben is the town’s new library director and books are his life, while Sam’s severe dyslexia has left her with a lifelong hatred of reading. She’s initially worried that this difference will make them incompatible, but Ben’s enthusiasm proves infectious, and he soon encourages her to write a cookbook of her own. McKinlay handles Sam’s dyslexia with sensitivity and heart, and all editions of the book will be published in “a dyslexic friendly font.” The well-developed emotional growth between the protagonists makes their connection feel real. This is a keeper. Agent: Christina Hogrebe, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 02/17/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Emma of 83rd Street

Audrey Bellezza and Emily Harding. Gallery, $17.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-66800-839-3

Author team Bellezza and Harding put a contemporary rom-com spin on Jane Austen’s Emma in their charming debut. In their reimagining, beautiful and wealthy 23-year-old grad student Emma Woodhouse’s world revolves around New York’s Upper East Side. She struggles between claiming independence and her family’s approval when faced with the growing pains of adulting. With her collegiate girlfriends living their lives abroad, and her sister marrying and moving away, Emma copes with feelings of abandonment by playing matchmaker for her new friend and classmate, Nadine Pittman—a project that inevitably goes awry. Meanwhile Emma realizes her own feelings for strikingly handsome George Knightley, her childhood friend and neighbor, who recognizes an attraction to her as well. But miscommunication, misconceptions, and misunderstandings threaten both their lifelong friendship and their chance at a relationship. The authors bring plenty of wit to this classic friends-to-lovers tale. Readers will fall in love with Emma Woodhouse all over again. Agent: Joelle Delbourgo, Joelle Delbourgo Assoc. (May)

Reviewed on 02/10/2023 | Details & Permalink

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A Heart Worth Stealing

Joanna Barker. Shadow Mountain, $16.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-63993-104-0

Opposites attract in this adorable Regency romance from Barker (A Game of Hearts). When the authorities refuse to believe Miss Genevieve “Ginny” Wilde’s claims that the watch bequeathed to her by her late father, a magistrate, was stolen, not misplaced, Ginny hires thief-taker Jack Travers to investigate. A rock thrown through Ginny’s window suggests that whoever stole the watch is not done targeting her, so Jack offers to stay with her for her protection. To preserve Ginny’s reputation, they’re forced to pretend to be cousins while he’s residing at her estate—but their lingering stares and obvious attraction threaten the ruse. Ginny’s “half-sister of ill-repute,” Catherine, has never tried to hide her disdain for Ginny (their father married Ginny’s mother mere months after Catherine’s mother’s death), putting her at the top of an already long list of suspects mainly comprising criminals Ginny’s father put away. Things grow more complicated in both the case and Ginny’s romance with Jack when the new magistrate vies for Ginny’s hand. Jack proves easy to crush on: he’s witty, sweet, and thoughtful, with just a touch of a bad boy persona. Unique characters put and a fast-paced mystery add flavor to this sweet romance. (May)

Reviewed on 02/10/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Seven Rules for Breaking Hearts

Kristyn J. Miller. Griffin, $17 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-86182-5

Miller’s claustrophobic debut promises a weeklong vacation on Catalina Island but winds up largely taking place on its characters’ phones. Podcaster Margo “Go” Anderson struggles to enjoy a free vacation (provided by her podcast’s sponsors) because the upcoming marriage of her podcasting partner, Jo, signals the likely end of their series, which celebrates single women hooking up and disappearing fast without catching feelings. The rest of the wedding party is also in attendance, meaning Go must reunite with her high school nemesis, the best man Declan Walsh, who pulled a few too many pranks on her as a teenager. Surprisingly, engineer Declan proves easy to talk to now that he’s all grown up, making Go wonder if she ought to put her “love em and leave em” attitude on hold to explore their connection. Miller does make some use of the scenery in kayaking and hiking excursions, but the plot is driven by Go’s online life, as she worries how a relationship would affect her internet persona. This obstacle feels flimsy when Declan makes her so demonstrably happy and she’s decided to end the podcast anyway. There are some cute moments here, but readers will long for more substance. (May)

Reviewed on 02/10/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Deep Tide

Laura Griffin. Berkley, $8.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-54671-0

Griffin showcases her suspense chops in her fourth Texas Murder Files romance (after Midnight Dunes). The brothers of coffee shop owner Leyla Breda, Owen and Joel, are on the police force in their small seaside town of Lost Beach, Tex.—and their protective instincts go into hyperdrive when one of the baristas, Amelia, turns up dead in the alley behind Leyla’s shop. FBI Special Agent Sean Moran is in town both for Joel’s wedding and to surveil a nefarious tech billionaire, and is drawn into the case. The chemistry between him and Leyla is instant, but as they race to solve Amelia’s murder, the danger around them grows—including a compromised law enforcement officer who has it out for Leyla, a hair-raising helicopter ride, and a dramatic water rescue—meaning they may not live to see their happily ever after. Griffin packs the story with well-drawn characters— including plucky newbie detective Nicole Lawson and hard-bitten reporter Miguel Vidales—and keeps the twists coming right up until the shocking reveal of Amelia’s killer. The result is an undeniable thrill ride. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Diamond Ring

KD Casey. Carina, $4.99 e-book (432p) ISBN 978-0-369-73431-0

Casey’s satisfying third Unwritten Rules romance (after Fire Season) revisits the fictional MLB team Oakland Elephants, as two rookies, catcher Alex Angelides and ace-in-the-making pitcher Jake Fischer, fall in love while competing in the World Series. Then a bad pitch costs the team the big game—and the men their relationship, which flames out in a fight over who is to blame. Worse, after Jake suffers an injury, his career in the majors is tabled. Ten years later, struggling with new heartbreak and some mental health problems, Jake finally returns to the Elephants, where Alex—once his partner, now his enemy—is finishing out his career. With the help of a mental skills coach, the stubborn teammates work to resolve their issues. Meanwhile, they unknowingly resume their flirtation through anonymous chats on a dating app. Will their second chance at both love and winning the pennant play out better than their first? Casey includes cameos from familiar characters, which series fans will appreciate, but she also mines similar plotlines from earlier books, making some of Alex and Jake’s training scenes, for example, feel like retreads. Still, the protagonists are strong enough to carry this. Readers will have no trouble rooting for their connection. Agent: Deidre Knight, Knight Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2023 | Details & Permalink

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Something Spectacular

Alexis Hall. Montlake, $16.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-5420-3528-6

Gleefully anachronistic and spectacularly queer, this Regency sequel to Something Fabulous feels like Hall is really having fun. Arabella Tarleton has had many lovers, but she’s never been in love and, out of boredom and desperation, decides it’s high time she try it. She picks famed opera singer Orfeo, a castrato, as her romantic object, but, unfortunately, being in their presence reduces her sharp wit to meaningless babble. She enlists her far more sensible best friend, nonbinary Peggy Delancey, who has pined for Arabella for years, to “play Cesario to [Arabella’s] Orsino” and plead her suit to Orfeo. From their first meeting—during which the beauty of Orfeo’s voice causes Peggy to faint—Peggy and Orfeo’s interactions exist in a heightened, almost operatic register of bared souls and tender touches, which can feel tonally inconsistent with the flippant, campy quality of the scenes between Peggy, Arabella, and their delightful found family of friends. The pair bond deeply over their complex relationships to gender—but Orfeo, who is portrayed as a Bowie-esque rock star, claims to have eyes only for their music and Peggy is reluctant to put herself through yet more unrequited love. Readers are advised to leave their historical scruples at the door and enjoy this indulgent treat for what it is. Agent: Courtney Miller-Callihan, Handspun Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2023 | Details & Permalink

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A Cruel Arrangement

Tijan. Montlake, $16.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-5420-3859-1

Bestseller Tijan treads a thin line between sex and danger in the steamy second Kings of New York mafia romance (after A Dirty Business). Life has not been easy for Molly Easter, but she’s proud of how she’s built Easter Lanes bowling alley into a successful business while keeping her distance from her con-man father, who is so indebted to the Walden crime family that they essentially own him. When Molly is injured during an attempted robbery of Easter Lanes, however, she’s unwittingly thrust into the mob war between the Waldens and their rivals, the Worthings. Dangerous and tormented mafia boss Ashton Walden prides himself on his coldness (“I liked being cruel. I liked killing.”), but he feels an undeniable connection to Molly and an unfamiliar, “not very Mafia” urge to protect her. Though he initially intends to use her as a pawn in a scheme against his enemy, he soon finds himself bonding with her instead. After he reveals a dark secret about their families’ intertwined pasts, the pair realize that they are more alike than they will admit and their attraction grows. Tijan makes the criminal underworld both perilous and seductive. This is sure to scratch an itch for fans of dark romance. Agent: Kimberly Brower, Brower Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/10/2023 | Details & Permalink

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