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The Cowboy Says I Do

Sinclair Jayne. Tule, $3.99 e-book (198p) ISBN 978-1-954894-13-6

Jayne (A Baby for the Texas Cowboy) launches her Montana Rodeo Brides series with this thinly plotted reconciliation romance. Ashni Singh and Beckett Ballantyne have been together since high school, taking their relationship on the road while Beck tours as a rodeo cowboy and Ash manages the tour’s marketing. But Ash is fed up with prioritizing Beck’s career over her own—and with his unwillingness to propose. Meanwhile, Beck’s grandfather is considering selling the beloved family ranch, leading Beck and his cousins to hatch a nonsensical scheme to show their grandfather they’re serious about settling down on the ranch by getting engaged. They make a game of it: the first cousin to propose wins. Beck is the only one already in a relationship, which would give him an unfair advantage were Ash not dead set on reclaiming her independence. Can Beck win her back, or will the “Rodeo Bride Game” blow up in his face? Ash’s internal conflict is sharply rendered, making the marriage contest feels even more like a flimsy gimmick in comparison. Luckily, it fades to the background as the plot progresses, and Jayne focuses instead on a sensitive portrayal of two people learning to grow. The result is uneven but sweet.(Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Last Seen Alone

Laura Griffin. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-19736-3

Bestseller Griffin (Flight) delivers a pulse-pounding romantic thriller. Vanessa Adams’s car is found abandoned along with her purse and phone. A smear of blood on the car door indicates foul play, and soon Austin homicide detective Brandon Reynolds is on the case. Brandon finds a lead when he discovers lawyer Leigh Larson’s business card among Vanessa’s things. Leigh specializes in sexual assault and harassment cases, but Vanessa was a relatively new client who hadn’t disclosed much about her troubles before disappearing. Still, Leigh’s eager to help and joins Brandon’s investigation, giving rise to off-the-charts chemistry. Together they discover that all of Vanessa’s ex-boyfriends have viable motives—especially creepy doctor Mason Lloyd. But when Leigh is attacked in her office, Brandon questions who the killer is really after. Griffin skillfully juggles suspense and romance right up until the adrenaline-fueled final page. A timely subplot about revenge porn may be triggering for some readers, but Griffin handles the thorny subject well. This is sure to keep readers guessing. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Matzah Ball

Jean Meltzer. Mira, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1158-4

Meltzer debuts with a charming holiday romance. Rabbi’s daughter Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt has a secret: she loves Christmas. So much so that she’s built a career writing Christmas romance novels and made-for-TV movies under a pen name. Her success allows her to work from home, vital for a person living with chronic fatigue syndrome. But Rachel’s thrown when her editors decide her next series should be Hanukkah-focused, a holiday she considers minor and not very magical. Seeking inspiration, she agrees to volunteer at a high-end Hanukkah soiree being thrown by her old sleepaway camp boyfriend, Jacob Greenberg. Jacob’s just as attracted to Rachel as he was back in camp days, but wary of her potentially breaking his heart again. Refreshingly, Rachel’s illness is not one of the barriers to their happy ending; instead, the pair weather the typical misunderstandings of a contemporary rom-com. Rachel is a fully formed character whose illness has shaped her choices, but doesn’t define all of who she is. Meanwhile, Jacob’s bubbe, who serves rugalach for every occasion, and Rachel’s best friend, Mickey, are scene-stealers—and deserve happily ever afters of their own. This heartfelt rom-com should be unwrapped by people of all faiths this holiday season. Agent: Carolyn Forde, Transatlantic Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Delicious Dilemma

Sera Taíno. Harlequin Special Edition, $5.99 mass market (288p) ISBN 978-1-335-40806-8

Compromise rules the day in Taíno’s sweet debut, as Val Navarro finds herself falling for the heir to the company she’s sure is systematically destroying her community. Val defines herself as much by her love for her family and their East Ward, N.J., neighborhood as she does by her love of cooking. When she first meets handsome Philip Wagner, she doesn’t realize his connection to Wagner Development. Though Philip quickly picks up on the fact that Val is the cofounder of the fair housing coalition looking to stop his newest development, he can’t resist enjoying her company before she finds out who he is and inevitably turns on him. When Wagner Development tries to buy the building that houses Val’s family restaurant, Val scrambles for solutions in everything from taking out a mortgage to organizing protests—but ultimately, it’s teaching Philip about the people who make the East Ward Waterfront a real community that saves the day. This love story is as much about setting as plot, with Taíno successfully transporting readers to a tightly knit fictional neighborhood, a close Puerto Rican family home, and a restaurant full of mouthwatering food. Readers won’t be disappointed. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Charm Offensive

Alison Cochrun. Atria, $17 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-982170-71-4

Cochrun probes the realities behind a fairy tale romance in her warmhearted if flawed debut. After awkward tech millionaire Charles Winshaw is ousted from his Silicon Valley company, he makes the improbable decision to rehabilitate his image by becoming the next star of Ever After, a Bachelor-style reality show. He’s not expecting to find real love with any of the women competing for his proposal, but he does discover a genuine connection with handsome producer Dev Deshpande, a hopeless romantic tasked with making Charlie seem more personable on camera. Their relationship deepens in secret as Dev coaches Charlie through filming, but their obligations to the show threaten their happy ending. Cochrun beautifully captures how inexperienced Charlie comes to recognize his feelings for Dev and takes great pains to portray her diverse cast of LGBTQ characters sensitively. She’s also scrupulous in portraying both Charlie’s and Dev’s struggles with mental health, though Charlie’s panic attacks during difficult social interactions or unexpected physical contact make the premise that he would choose to participate in a dating show even more dubious. And in order to achieve a twist ending, Cochrun arranges the denouement in a way that strains credulity. Nonetheless, readers seeking romance that prioritizes inclusive explorations of sexual identity and mental illness will treasure this. Agent: Bibi Lewis, Ethan Ellenberg Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Reckless Match

Kate Bateman. St. Martin’s, $8.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-80156-2

Bateman (the Bow Street Bachelors series) launches a Regency trilogy with this pitch-perfect enemies-to-lovers romance centered on the feuding Montgomery and Davies families. Despite generations of bad blood, the two clans jointly own the land between their estates, and a fragile truce requires that representatives from each family shake hands once annually. This year, it’s aspiring archaeologist Maddie Montgomery and former soldier Gryff Davies who reunite for the handshake ritual—but Gryff surprises Maddie with a kiss instead, reigniting their long unspoken mutual attraction. Maddie’s feelings for Gryff aren’t her only secret: the Montgomery family is facing financial ruin, leading Maddie to consider a marriage proposal from the detestable Mostyn Drake, who’s offering £2,000 for her hand. Bateman further ratchets up the tension when Maddie falls into a cave on the shared Davies-Montgomery land and discovers a brandy-smuggling operation. She and Gryff hatch a plan to foil the smugglers, catapulting the two into danger and fanning the flames of passion between them. It’s tropey in the best of ways, with a palpable charge between the lovers and a good balance of darkness and light. Brimming with intrigue, passion, and humor, this is sure to win the author new fans. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

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So We Meet Again

Suzanne Park. Avon, $15.99 trade paper (365p) ISBN 978-0-06-299071-6

Sparks fly between reunited rivals in this heartwarming and empowering romance from Park (Loathe at First Sight). Jessica Kim is left reeling when she’s let go from her Wall Street job. Lost and disheartened, she returns to Nashville to live with her parents while strategizing next steps. It’s the worst possible moment for her to run into her childhood nemesis, “Korean Boy Wonder” Daniel Choi, who has become the living embodiment of everything Jess currently lacks: success, composure, and a knack for charming everyone he meets. Though Jess refuses to admit it, even she’s not immune. And as they spend time together, she can’t deny the chemistry between them, nor the fact that it’s Daniel who inspires her to start her own streaming channel featuring cooking hacks with a Korean flair. Jess flourishes as a budding entrepreneur, rediscovering how important her cultural roots and family are to her; meanwhile, she slowly comes to terms with the fact that dashing Daniel may be the perfect fit for her after all. Park is a master in crafting comedic yet endearing moments that become the foundation for intricate character development. This is sure to be a hit. Agent: Brent Taylor, Triada US Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Witch Please

Ann Aguirre. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-72824-016-9

Aguirre (the Ars Numina series) whips up a sweet and spicy love story in this magic-infused rom-com. Technomancer Danica Waterhouse has sworn off serious relationships after a nasty breakup, focusing instead on running her magical repair shop, the Fix-It Witches, with her cousin Clementine. Then Titus Winnaker, the owner of local bakery Sugar Daddy, comes in about a broken oven, and she can’t ignore the spark between them. Titus isn’t looking for love, either, as he’s busy running the bakery left to him and his sister by their late mother. But flirting with Danica makes him think his past bad luck with relationships may have finally run out. There’s just one problem: Titus is a mundane and Danica’s grandmother strictly forbids relationships between witches and non-witches. Still, Danica can’t ignore the sweet tooth she has for the “CinnaMan,” so nicknamed for his delicious pastries, and their red-hot attraction outweighs their mutual wariness. Aguirre tugs on the heartstrings, tackling familial pressure, the struggle to overcome heartbreak, and the strength it takes to choose the uncertainty of love over the stability of loneliness. Readers will be enchanted. Agent: Lucienne Diver, the Knight Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Ex Hex

Erin Sterling. Morrow, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-302747-3

Filled with delightful witchiness and humor, this playful romantic comedy from Sterling (The Wife Upstairs, written as Rachel Hawkins) explores second chances and self-discovery. Nineteen-year-old Vivi Jones fell hard for Welsh exchange student Rhys Penhallow—so hard that her heart shattered when he revealed his father was arranging a marriage for him back home. Despite only recently learning of her witchy nature, the devastated Vivi put a curse on Rhys with the assistance of her cousin, Gwyn. Nine years later, Rhys returns to small-town Graves Glen, Ga., and his trip is disastrous from the moment he steps foot into the town, proving that even as a teenage witch, Vivi packed a punch. The poor man is felled by mishap after mishap until he discovers the magical cause of his misfortune. With time running out before Halloween, when “the curse reaches its zenith,” Rhys and Vivi, now a history professor at the college where they met, must find a way to break the curse before it destroys the town—which means finding a way to make peace with each other. Comedic chaos rules the day, with plenty of laughs overlaying just a touch of introspection as the exes realize how much they still mean to each other. The result is a fluffy Halloween treat. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (Oct.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the title of the author's previous book.

Reviewed on 07/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Donut Trap

Julie Tieu. Avon, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-306980-0

A floundering heroine struggles to create a meaningful life for herself outside of her immigrant parents’ expectations in Tieu’s meandering debut. Jasmine “Jas” Tran’s parents set up Sunshine Donuts in an L.A. suburb after fleeing the Khmer Rouge and immigrating to the U.S. Jas has worked there since childhood, and after burning out on the pre-med track during her senior year at UCLA, she returns to the shop full-time, giving her parents more opportunities to critique her lack of social life, career, and boyfriend. Enter Jas’s old college crush, Alex Lai. The pair start dating, but Alex’s own struggles with his Chinese immigrant mother lead to an unfortunate dinner argument that aggravates Jas’s insecurities about her career. The narrative gives ample time to the fraught relationship between Jas and her parents, but at the expense of developing the romance between Jas and Alex, who bond over their similar traumas, but share little else. Meanwhile, the friend ex-machina through which Jas eventually finds professional fulfilment strains credulity. Still, the diverse cast and deliciously described donuts make up for some of these flaws. Readers looking for slow-paced, low-stakes romance should find plenty to enjoy. Agent: Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 07/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

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