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Cowboy for Hire

Victoria James. Entangled Amara, $7.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-64063-821-1

James (The Trouble With Cowboys) makes a second trip to charming Wishing River, Mo., in this heartfelt contemporary. Sarah Turner inherits her family’s ranch following the deaths of her parents and brother and is determined to take an active role in running it, but she’ll need the help of a capable foreman. After the ad she places in the paper is humorously misprinted (“Cowboy for Her: Experienced and skilled cowboy companion for lonely young woman”) Sarah’s grateful for the entirely professional application from experienced rancher Cade Walker, whom she quickly learns to depend on. Cade is at first surprised by Sarah’s grit and determination to learn the ins and outs of ranching, and then taken by her strengths and vulnerabilities alike. But Cade is afraid to act on his powerful attraction because he believes he’s unworthy of affection, the result of being raised by abusive, alcoholic parents. So when Sarah offers him her love, he self-sabotages, leading to a crisis that could end their relationship. James skillfully illustrates the redemptive power of love and the sweet relief of forgiveness. This emotional cowboy romance expertly tugs at the heartstrings. Agent: Louise Fury, The Bent Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Tourist Attraction

Sarah Morgenthaler. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $14.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-7282-1048-3

A grumpy diner owner and an adventurous waitress on her first vacation in years develop unexpected feelings in Morgenthaler’s thoroughly entertaining debut. Graham Barnett hates running the Tourist Trap, his popular Moose Springs, Alas., establishment famous both for the gimmicky menu items (“Growly Bear” drinks and “reindeer dogs”) and Graham’s surly behavior, which the wealthy visitors to the nearby resort find inexplicably charming. He would much prefer to spend his time working on his chain saw sculptures. But as soon as he locks eyes with the “adorably dorky” Zoey Caldwell, who’s saved up tip money for years for a two-week Alaskan adventure, Graham puts aside both art and business to spend time with her as her tour guide. Though their relationship hits an early hurdle when Zoey mistakes a chainsaw-wielding Graham for a murderer and kicks him in the groin, the chemistry between the two builds at a satisfying pace. Morgenthaler’s descriptions of the scenery are majestic, and her delineation of the friction between the townspeople and the tourists is well done. The quirky supporting characters, including a truck-humping moose, add charm. This sweet, funny tale is sure to win Morgenthaler many fans. Agent: Sara Megibow, KT Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Banty House

Carolyn Brown. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (324p) ISBN 978-1-5420-1881-4

Brown (The Family Journal) throws together a colorful cast of characters to excellent effect and maximum charm in this small-town contemporary romance. The elderly Carson sisters—Kate, Connie, and Betsy—have turned the Rooster, Tex., brothel they were raised in into a safe haven for the lost and down-on-their-luck passing through town. Their home, dubbed the Banty House, proves a godsend for pregnant 19-year-old Ginger Andrews, a former foster child from Kentucky trying to get as far away from her past as possible. Not only do the sisters provide her a bed, they introduce her to the first man she can count on: handyman Sloan Baker, a young army vet who’s fighting demons of his own. Brown’s skillful plotting and deeply felt characterizations enrich the young couple’s road to their inevitable happy ending, exploring along the way Sloan’s crippling survivor’s guilt and orphaned Ginger’s childhood in the foster care system. But there’s plenty of joy and laughter, too, both in the birth of Ginger’s child, and the sisters’ unexpected vices: Connie smokes, Kate makes moonshine, and Betsy grows pot. This first-rate romance will delight readers young and old. Agent: Erin Niumata, Folio Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Relatively Sane

Whitney Dineen. 33 Partners, $12.95 trade paper (354p) ISBN 978-1-09-064332-2

Dineen pulls readers back into the absurd world of the Masterson family in this side-splitting sequel to Relatively Normal. Party planner Cat Masterson moves home from New York to buy and renovate her family’s Central Illinois farmhouse and rekindle a romance with childhood friend Sam. But Cat has forgotten just how eccentric her family is, with her mother stashing taxidermied animals in the attic, her father traipsing around in a kilt, and her grandmother Nan, the standout, forever finding fresh, surprising insults to throw around. To help manage the restoration of the farm, Cat enlists the Renovation Brothers, the hunky stars of a reality TV show, but Sam starts acting cagey as soon as the brothers arrive. It’s going to cost a lot of Cat’s sanity to keep both the repairs and her relationships on track. Dineen’s characterizations of her wacky cast make it easy for those new to the series to jump into the chaos, and there are enough twists and turns to keep the pages turning. Readers are sure to laugh and cringe along with the characters as they navigate this rom-com’s many mishaps. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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First Comes Scandal

Julia Quinn. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-295616-3

In Quinn’s charming fourth Rokesbys Regency romance (after The Other Miss Bridgerton), a woman marries her lifelong friend to save her reputation. The wealthy Lady Georgiana “Georgie” Bridgerton is ruined when Freddie Oakes tries to trap her into marriage, compromising her reputation by forcing her to spend unchaperoned time with him. When Georgie’s godfather learns of her predicament, he tells his son, Nicholas Rokesby, that he must marry her. Both Nicholas and Georgie are romantics who had hoped to marry for love, but they agree to the union as a necessity and hope that their close friendship will survive. But the arrangement leads them to see each other in a new light, and an attraction grows between them as Nicholas tirelessly supports Georgie in pursuing her dreams; Georgie is fascinated with Nicholas’s classes at medical school, and as women aren’t allowed to attend, Nicholas agrees to teach her everything he can. Both hero and heroine enter into their marriage as virgins, making for tender, exploratory sex scenes with a welcome degree of humor. Quinn’s fans will delight in the sparkling prose and progressive central couple. Agent: Steve Axelrod, Axelrod Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Felice

Kathleen Bittner Roth. Zebra, $7.99 mass market (376p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4208-2

Forbidden romance between the heiress to a shipping fortune and a Cajun man drives Roth’s beguiling Bayou Bad Boys series debut (after Josette). In 1859, Felice Andrews returns to New Orleans after years abroad accompanied by Mayhew Rutherford, Marquess of Ainsworth, who intends to ask her father for permission to marry her. Upon arrival at her brother Michel’s shipping office, Felice encounters René Thibodeaux, the man who broke her heart three years before and now works for Michel. The attraction between Felice and René reawakens as Felice assists her brother with the company’s bookkeeping. Though René is proud of his business accomplishments, having risen above his humble beginnings as the illegitimate son of a voodoo priestess, he still believes that Felice is too good for him. But as the relationship between Felice and Mayhew crumbles, Felice seeks solace in René’s arms and discovers that their time apart has not lessened the fire between them. The world of antebellum New Orleans is well-rendered and immersive, and will draw readers in from the very first page. With its strong heroine and themes of enduring love, this sweet story will appeal to fans of historical romance who want a break from Regency England. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Ingredients of You and Me

Nina Bocci. Gallery, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7889-4

The halfhearted third romance in Nina Bocci’s Hopeless Romantics series (after Meet Me on Love Lane) introduces a charmless couple who behave in unbelievable ways. After Parker Adams sells her successful New York City cupcake shop, she visits her best friend, Charlotte, in small-town Hope Lake, Pa. Parker has a secondary motive for the trip: on a previous visit she secretly began a relationship with Charlotte’s friend Nick Arthur, which continued long-distance. They were in the midst of planning Thanksgiving together when he ghosted her, leaving her so heartbroken she couldn’t bake. Despite Parker’s desire for answers, when she sees Nick again she refuses to let him explain. As their communication issues get increasingly tedious, readers will find it hard to care about a couple who so consistently hurt one another. More successful are the mouthwatering descriptions of Parker’s baked goods and the quirky older ladies who welcome Parker to town and inspire her to figure out a career that will allow her to stay in Hope Lake with her undeserving beau. This misses the mark. Agent: Kimberly Brower, Brower Literary & Management. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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If You Must Know

Jamie Beck. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-5420-0871-6

Sibling rivalry and sisterly love coexist in the bittersweet launch of Beck’s Potomac Point series (after In the Cards). Sisters Amanda Foster and Erin Turner are happy maintaining as much distance from each other as they can get in their charming New England town. Rule-abiding nursery school teacher Amanda Foster is pregnant and happily married. Free-spirited yoga instructor Erin is mourning her father while trying to build up her bath products business. When Amanda’s husband reveals himself to be a con artist and his deceit threatens Amanda and Erin’s mother’s financial future, the sisters must put their differences aside to work together to save their family. But a secret Erin’s been keeping from Amanda comes to light, and it may destroy their relationship for good. Beck expertly captures the bickering between sisters, the pain of regret, and the thorny path to forgiveness. With well-realized secondary characters—among them sad songwriter Eli (who’s caught Erin’s eye) and the girls’ oft-cantankerous mother—and believable surprises peppered throughout, Beck’s emotional tale rings true. More women’s fiction than romance, this will please readers looking for resonant, family-centric stories. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 02/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Wrong Mr. Darcy

Evelyn Lozada and Holly Lörincz. St. Martin’s Griffin, $16.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-62214-3

Lozada, star of the Basketball Wives reality TV show, and coauthor Lörincz (who previously collaborated with Lozada on The Perfect Date) loosely reimagine Pride and Prejudice as a sporty, multicultural romance with a surprising amount of edge. Hara Isari is determined to make it as a sportswriter. Derek Darcy, a professional basketball player in Boston, spent his rookie season sidelined after an injury. He’s now ready to get back in the game when he hears a troubling secret about his best friend and teammate Charles Butler. When Hara wins a national writing award, the prize is an exclusive interview with media-shy Charles, who brings Derek along. At the interview, Derek criticizes her for her softball questions, all of which had to be approved by the team’s hostile owner. Hara and Derek’s first impressions of each other are just as disastrous as Austen fans will expect, but they grow closer as Hara attempts to dig out Charles’s secret. The authors bring the lively plot to an unexpected, explosive finish, but the occasionally stilted prose keeps the tale from fully taking off. Still, the basketball angle is an inventive spin on a favorite story. This is sure to delight fans of sports romance. (June)

Reviewed on 02/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Money Man

Nancy Herkness. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (270p) ISBN 978-1-5420-0016-1

Herkness (Second Act) opens her Consultants series with an intricate, fiery work of romantic suspense. Methodical bookkeeper Alice Thurber loves numbers, her clients, and the small business she’s built for herself in New Jersey. So when she can’t make sense out of a series of tiny discrepancies in her clients’ finances, she contacts a big-time N.Y.C. consulting firm for assistance, and handsome money wiz Derek Killion agrees to look over her books. Derek quickly realizes that the diligent Alice wouldn’t have made such sloppy mistakes, and soon he’s on the trail of the shady tech company behind her accounting software. As Derek and Alice look into the company, they land some powerful corporate enemies willing to go to extremes to protect their secrets. The high stakes propel the couple toward each other, but it is their convincing connection and mutual respect that ignites their passion. The supporting characters, including Derek’s workaholic partners, are just as lovable as the leads, and the well-maintained suspense sends a healthy shot of adrenaline through the tender romance. Readers will be eager for the next in the series. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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