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The Girl Next Door

Chelsea M. Cameron. Carina Adores, $14.99 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-335-14694-6

Cameron (My Favorite Mistake) conjures an idyllic coastal Maine setting for this pleasant tale about second chances between two perfectly mismatched heroines. Iris Turner always harbored dreams of leaving her small hometown of Salty Cove, so it’s particularly galling to be back after college with hardly a penny to her name and few plans for the future. But when her sexy neighbor, Jude Wicks, catches her eye, Iris begins to wonder if her summer at home might be more worthwhile than she first assumed. Jude works on a lobster boat while grieving her first love, who recently died of cancer. Though she tries to resist her feelings for Iris, it proves impossible given their close proximity. Iris and Jude savor a summer fling, but Iris is still determined to prove to herself and her parents that she can make it in Boston come fall—unless Jude can find the courage to ask her to stay. The plot is straightforward and allows the characters the chance to take center stage, and though Iris’s immaturity grows frustrating, deeply empathetic Jude provides an excellent foil that makes their pairing work. This simple, emotional story may not have much depth, but it has plenty of charm. (June)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Like Lovers Do

Tracey Livesay. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-297956-8

Friends surrender to their desires during a scenic getaway in Livesay’s outstanding second Girls Trip romance (after Sweet Talkin’ Lover). Financial planner Benjamin Van Mont is smitten with surgeon Nicole Allen from the moment she shows up to rent his downstairs apartment. But, after being raised by two renowned but work-addicted physicians who paid him no attention, he’s promised himself never to get involved with a doctor. That works fine for Nicole, whose own childhood being raised by a single mother forced to work several jobs after Nicole’s father abandoned them left her determined never to sacrifice her career for a man. The pair ignore their mutual attraction and strike up a friendship. When one of Nicole’s disgruntled intern’s powerful family puts her at risk of losing her fellowship, Ben asks his parents to put in a good word. To show her gratitude, Nicole agrees to pretend to be Ben’s girlfriend on a vacation to Martha’s Vineyard to keep his demanding ex at bay—but can their relationship withstand the ruse? Nicole and Ben are both passionate and ambitious, and Nicole’s fiery temperament is balanced by Ben’s calming nature. The steady pace, smooth progression from friends to lovers, and natural, witty dialogue make this a winner. Readers will be wowed. Agent: Nalini Akolekar, Spencerhill Assoc. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Truth of the Matter

Jamie Beck. Montlake Romance, $14.95 trade paper (332p) ISBN 978-1-5420-0873-0

Beck returns to small-town Potomac Point (first visited in If You Must Know) in this memorable and deeply felt contemporary. Anne Sullivan and her teenage daughter, Katy, move to Potomac Point hoping for a fresh start far away from Anne’s soon-to-be ex-husband and his new lover. When Anne hires Dan Foley, her high school crush, to renovate her grandparents’ house so she and Katy can move in, Dan discovers a box of mysterious memorabilia from Anne’s grandmother’s past—including photographs of a man who is not her grandfather. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for Anne to get answers about it from her grandmother, who’s suffering from dementia and fighting the demons of regret. Meanwhile, the move and the drawn-out divorce exacerbate Katy’s previously ignored mental health issues. Anne must find a way to help both of her loved ones while also finding time to remember who she is outside of her family’s demands on her. Beck spins a poignant, multigenerational coming-of-age tale as these three women navigate their identities, dreams, and love lives. Complex and introspective, this is by turns heart-wrenching and infectiously hopeful. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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You Had Me at Hola

Alexis Daria. Avon, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-295992-8

Daria (Dance All Night) delivers a sexy showbiz love affair in this steamy rom-com. Soap opera actor Jasmine Lin Rodriguez has just won the title role in a hotly anticipated telenovela when she’s dumped by her rock star boyfriend and her life is splashed across the tabloids. To get her life back on track in time for the first day of shooting, Jasmine and her cousins—aka the Primas of Power—devise the Leading Lady Plan, a list of dos and don’ts including “leading ladies only end up on magazine covers with good reason” and “leading ladies don’t need a man to be happy.” But Jasmine’s plan to stay single is upended when her TV love interest is recast with enigmatic heartthrob Ashton Suarez. Jasmine and Ashton’s chemistry is explosive both on- and off-camera, but the quirky choice to also include segments from the perspectives of Jasmine and Ashton’s on-screen alter egos is a puzzling one. Still, Daria breathes effortless life into a cast of messy, loving, talented, and downright hilarious characters readers will adore. A sense of Latinx culture and pride exudes from every page, elevating an already entertaining story. Romance fans won’t want to miss this. Agent: Sarah Younger, Nancy Yost Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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You Lucky Dog

Julia London. Berkley, $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-10038-7

A canine mix-up leads to unexpected love in this bright, bubbly rom-com from bestseller London (A Royal Kiss & Tell). Freelance publicist Carly Kennedy’s path would likely never have crossed with neuroscientist Max Sheffington were it not for their drug-dealing dog walker getting arrested and their two near-identical basset hounds being returned to the wrong owners. A frazzled Carly spends two days untangling the mystery of the switched hounds, only to finally arrive at Max’s door and discover that her previously well-behaved Baxter is now a bandana-wearing couch potato. Adding insult to injury, Max has the gall to ask her to continue to look after his basset, Hazel, over the weekend while he attends an out-of-town dog show with his autistic brother. Swayed by his desperate situation, Carly reluctantly agrees—with disastrous results. There’s heady chemistry between the optimistic Carly and the slightly nerdy Max as they stumble into coparenting the pooches, with the fabulous, four-legged supporting characters providing both laugh-out-loud hilarity and some touching moments. Readers will be in doggie heaven. Agent: Jenny Bent, the Bent Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/12/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Would I Lie to the Duke

Eva Leigh. Avon, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-293242-6

Complex, witty characters with strong bonds and big hearts enliven the seductive first Union of the Rakes romance from Leigh (the London Underground series). When paid companion Jessica McGale’s employer is incapacitated by an injury, Jessica uses the extra free time (and her employer’s wardrobe) to gain entry into London’s annual Bazaar, five days during which genteel entrepreneurs can present their enterprises to investors, hoping she’ll be able to secure enough funding to rebuild her family’s soap business. One of those investors is Noel Edwards, Duke of Rotherby. Noel trusts very few people and is accustomed to being courted for his influence and wealth, but Noel is intrigued by Jessica’s intellect, financial prowess, and sharp wit. Jessica enjoys being treated like a member of the elite, but as her feelings for Noel intensify she worries about what will happen if he discovers that she’s pretending to be someone she’s not. Leigh makes a strong case for their compatibility as Noel learns to open his heart and Jessica learns her own lesson about trust. Readers will delight in this fun, fresh Regency. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/05/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Rebellious Rancher

Kate Pearce. Zebra, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4825-1

An actor escapes the trappings of fame to find happiness with a down-to-earth rancher in the sensual, third installment of Pearce’s Millers of Morgan Valley series (after The Rancher’s Redemption). Rancher Ben Miller agrees to take Hollywood starlet Silver Meadows for a 10-day trail ride through the Sierra Nevada to help her prepare for an upcoming role. Though Silver is initially unprepared for the rigors of traveling by horseback and sleeping under the stars, she adapts quickly and happily shares the chores with Ben. A former child star, Silver’s life has been anything but normal, leaving no time for relationships. So when she asks Ben to be her first sexual experience, he hesitates, despite their intense mutual attraction, not wanting to take advantage. Silver proves determined and Ben’s hesitation gives way to a steamy affair—but can their love story last once they get off the trail and back to their very different lives? Pearce draws a striking contrast between the beauty and simplicity of ranch life and the fleeting allure of fame and fortune. This sexy tale is sure to please cowboy fans. Agent: Deidre Knight, the Knight Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/05/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Daring and the Duke

Sarah MacLean. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-269208-5

MacLean concludes her Bareknuckle Bastards Regency series (after Brazen and the Beast) not with a bang but a sensual whisper. Grace Condry is a member of the fighting legends Bareknuckle Bastards, alongside Devil and Whit, men she considers to be brothers. All three were forced out onto the streets of Covent Garden at a young age after being betrayed by Ewan, Devil and Whit’s older brother—and Grace’s first love. The trio quickly rose in the ranks of Covent Garden’s underworld, with Grace, now called Dahlia, as their queen. Ewan, now Duke Marwick, has never stopped searching for Grace, hoping to win her back even after being told of her death. When Grace learns that Ewan is in the city, she swears revenge, though her resolve falters once they actually reunite. But with the harshness of their past between them, the pair must traverse a rather rocky path back to love. Grace is a fierce heroine and her role as the proprietress of a notorious ladies’ club adds dimension to an otherwise thin plot that feels more like an epilogue to the previous books than a self-contained outing. Series fans will be glad to see loose ends get tied up, but long for a meatier tale. Agent: Holly Root, Holly Root Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 06/05/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Wild Cowboy Country

Erin Marsh. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-7091-9

Laurel Kerr, writing as Marsh, returns to charming Sagebrush Flats and its zoo in the swoony, well-paced third Where the Wild Hearts Are romance (after Wild on My Mind). Rocky Ridge National Park ranger Lacey Montgomery, the town sweetheart, is working to reintroduce endangered Mexican gray wolves into the area; gorgeous city-slicker Clay Stevens, the town pariah, recently inherited his grandfather’s ranch and does not want wolves killing his cattle. But after Clay’s troubled teenage nephew, Zach, and Zach’s drunken buddies accidentally collapse a wolf den, Zach and Clay help Lacey to rescue the affected wolf pups and bring them to the safety of the Sagebrush Zoo. In the process, Lacey sustains a concussion that lands her on leave from her ranger job. She volunteers at the zoo for the summer, which also happens to be where Zach is completing his state-mandated community service—so Clay offers to chauffeur them both. Clay and Lacey share an intense attraction, but Clay will have to overcome Lacey’s distrust of him and his family to win her over. Periodic perspective shifts into the heads of the zoo’s animals add a unique charm, lightening the serious themes of family baggage and environmental conflict. This bighearted enemies-to-lovers romance is a treat. Agent: Sarah Phair, Sandford J. Greenburger Assoc. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/05/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Sunshine on Silver Lake

Annie Rains. Forever, $7.99 mass market (432p) ISBN 978-1-5387-0088-4

Rains (Starting Over at Blueberry Creek) makes a heartwarming return to the charming town of Sweetwater Springs, N.C., with this tale of a wary coffee shop owner and the hunky park ranger who’s been in love with her since childhood. When Jack Hershey stood Emma St. James up for her senior prom after a night full of mishaps (including a painful confrontation with Emma’s father), he inadvertently ruined their chances of being more than just friends, despite mutual feelings that linger into adulthood. Now Emma’s 30th birthday looms and she needs a friend more than ever; her mother died of breast cancer in her own 30th year. Emma turns to Jack for support, and though their chemistry is intense and both want something more, neither is brave enough to make the first move. Readers will have no trouble falling in love with Rains’s realistically flawed hero and heroine as they do their best to overcome their pasts and embrace their futures. A strong cast of supporting characters—especially Emma’s stepmother, Angel, and the many returning faces from earlier books—underpin Rains’s engaging prose and perfectly paced plot. Lovers of small-town tales won’t be able to resist. (July)

Reviewed on 06/05/2020 | Details & Permalink

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