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Blue Sky Cowboy Christmas

Joanne Kennedy. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-4926-1695-5

A couple struggles to overcome their traumatic histories in the over-the-top second installment to Kennedy’s Blue Sky Cowboy series (after Cowboy Summer). Army veteran Griff Bailey returns to his family’s Wyoming ranch hoping for some alone time—only to discover that his parents are converting the place into a dude ranch and have hired contractor Riley James, a recovering addict with whom Griff shared a single, steamy night just before he shipped out. When the judgemental sisters of Riley’s boss turned surrogate father, Ed Boone, come to town for Christmas, Riley moves into the half-renovated ranch house to avoid their subtle cruelties—and she quickly falls back into bed with Griff. As Griff, who suffers from PTSD, burns through his days playing video games, Riley projects intentions and feelings onto him without giving him the chance to speak for himself. Both the subplot about the Boone family and Riley and Griff’s frustratingly prolonged communication issues come to a head at the town Christmas party. Though the conflict is drawn out and convoluted, Riley’s fractured self-image even years into her recovery rings true. Readers looking for a Christmas romance that doesn’t skimp on steam will be pleased—but they should be prepared for a winding road to the happy ending. Agent: Elaine English, Elaine P. English Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Christmas Makeover

Susan Lute. Tule, $3.99 e-book (228p) ISBN 978-1-952560-61-3

A former Broadway costume designer strikes a sweet deal with a pastry chef in this low-angst, friends-to-lovers romance, the third in Lute’s Angel Point series (after Wanted by the Marshall). Costumer Faith Hathaway moves home to Angel Point, Ore., to take care of her grandfather. When baker and cookbook author Grant Reed, Faith’s best friend in town, receives a negative response from his publisher on his proposal for a new Christmas cookbook, Grant enlists Faith’s help making a series of cooking videos to win over his editor. In exchange, he offers to get the scrooge-like Faith into the holiday spirit with a festive tour of Angel Point. Faith slowly but surely falls for Grant somewhere between designing the costumes for the town’s holiday play, managing her boutique, and making grudging changes to Grant’s quirky but endearing wardrobe to get him camera ready. Meanwhile, Grant crushes on Faith, but neither communicates their feelings, leading to some drawn out pining that’s not resolved until the happily ever after. The charm of the holidays in the quaint town adds welcome color to the slow-building love story. Readers will enjoy the atmosphere, but many will long for more drama. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Silver Creek Fire

Lindsay McKenna. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5082-7

McKenna (the Wind River Valley series) launches her Silver Creek series with this stirring work of romantic suspense. Talented 29-year-old woodworker Lea Ryan takes a job renovating Logan Anderson’s Wild Goose Ranch in Silver Creek, Wyo. On her way there, her truck is rammed in a hit-and-run accident, and it’s the strapping Logan himself who rescues her from her totaled vehicle. As Lea recovers from her minor injuries and becomes immersed in her work on Logan’s ranch house, she and Logan grow close: he opens up to her about the death of his wife and unborn daughter, and she shares details of a traumatic incident from her teen years that left her wary of men. Their growing connection is only heightened by a mounting element of danger: a man who wants Logan’s land for fracking starts sending increasingly violent threats. Logan’s determination to keep Lea safe will please fans of the genre, while Lea’s bravery and passion for the environment make her an admirable character. The romance is slow to evolve but rich with emotion and intensified by suspense. Readers will be excited to see where McKenna takes the series next. Agent: Claire Gerus, Claire Gerus Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Christmas Ever After

Karen Schaler. HawkTale, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-7347661-3-4

A wonderfully festive setting redeems the thin love story of this Christmas romance from Schaler (Finding Christmas). When romance author Riley Reynold’s latest book bombs, her publisher talks her into writing a Christmas romance, hoping it will resuscitate her career—but Riley hasn’t celebrated Christmas since her father died when she was eight years old. She signs on to host a Christmas Camp at a Christmas Lake Lodge in Colorado as research. She’ll spend a weekend doing holiday activities with her fans and gathering inspiration for her next book. Luke Larchmont, the lodge manager, initially thinks Riley’s a prima donna, but as they spend more time together, he gradually warms to the ambitious beauty. There’s little focus on their budding connection, however, as Schaler spends more time exploring Riley’s feelings for three ex-boyfriends who surprise her by showing up at the retreat hoping to win her back. The cast is charming and the atmosphere’s enchanting, but Riley and Luke’s surface-level flirtation is not enough to carry the love story. Schaler’s romance won’t sweep readers off their feet, but it will successfully transport them to a winter wonderland. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Fatal Deception

April Hunt. Forever, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-5387-6341-4

The prescient third romantic suspense novel in Hunt’s action-packed Steele Ops series (after Lethal Redemption) focuses on a deadly virus with the potential to circle the globe. Dr. Isabel Santiago, one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases, hires the Steele Ops security team to investigate after a sample of a dangerous virus disappears from her lab. When the terrorists who stole the virus begin to test ways of transmitting it, Isabel and the Steele Ops team, including Isabel’s strong, tortured love interest, Roman Steele, are forced into the field to prevent a pandemic. Though Isabel advocates social distancing, she and Roman still find moments to get super close and even meet each other’s families. The plot is gripping, but Hunt relies on some frustrating contrivances to create suspense, as when smart, savvy Isabel breaks character to wander off alone and naively follow a stranger after Roman advises her to make sure a member of his team is always with her. Coronavirus will color the reception of this novel and may turn off readers looking for escape, but Hunt’s talent is clear and readers will be pleased to note that there are plenty more Steele brothers and associates to match up in future installments. Agent: Sarah Younger, Nancy Yost Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Stroke of Luck

Opal Carew. Griffin, $16.99 trade paperback (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-11682-6

Equal parts tender and transgressive, this erotic romance from Carew (X Marks the Spot) explores a three-way relationship. All former foster child April Smith has ever wanted is to feel safe, secure, and loved, leading her into an ill-advised relationship with wealthy Maurice Dubois. When April catches Maurice having sex with another woman the night before their Las Vegas wedding, she calls off their engagement, leading Maurice to vindictively stick her with their massive hotel bill and cancel all her credit cards. As fate would have it, April’s college boyfriend Quinn Taylor and his business partner, Austin Wright, are staying at the same hotel and witness April’s distress. Quinn pays April’s bill with no hesitation and no demands, but April’s pride leaves her determined to pay him back. She has no money, but offers a no-strings-attached, monthlong sexual relationship in payment. Quinn agrees—then ups the ante by telling April he plans to “share her” with Austin. Though some readers will be turned off by Quinn’s callous treatment of April spurred by his lingering heartbreak from college, kind, empathetic Austin provides a welcome foil as love rapidly kindles between April and both men. Carew offers plentiful thrills for readers looking for spicy romance that doesn’t leave the characters at the bedroom door. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Very Merry Match

Melinda Curtis. Forever, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-3345-5

The unremarkable second romance in Curtis’s Sunshine Valley series (after Can’t Hurry Love) returns to small-town Sunshine, Colo., where the matchmaking women of the Sunshine Valley Widows Club have made it their mission to give Cupid a helping hand as Christmas approaches. This time they set their sights on member Edith Archer’s granddaughter, kindergarten teacher Mary Margaret, whose husband died a year earlier, leaving her with a mountain of debt she knew nothing about. Divorced Sunshine mayor Kevin Hadley, who has high-flying political ambitions, knows and admires Mary Margaret because his son, Tad, is in her class, and the more he sees of her the more he thinks she would make a suitable match—though her night job working as a burlesque dancer to pay off her husband’s debts might jeopardize his public image. Meanwhile, Kevin’s ex-wife waits in the wings, scheming to win him back. Curtis makes a believable case for Kevin and Mary Margaret to find a second chance at love, but their nosy neighbors rarely give them a moment alone. The humor occasionally falls flat and the Christmas season serves as little more than set dressing, but the sweet, chaste love story will please series fans. This is solid, if uninspired, fare. Agent: Pam Hopkins, Hopkins Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Christmas on Reindeer Road

Debbie Mason. Forever, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1696-0

The convoluted second romance in Mason’s Highland Falls series (after Summer on Honeysuckle Ridge) attempts to capture the Christmas spirit, but gets too caught up in its tangled story lines. Saintly Mallory Maitland has taken custody of her late-husband’s troublesome teenage stepsons, Oliver and Brooks. She moves them back to her hometown, Highland Falls, N.C., in time for the holidays, hoping a fresh start will unite them as a family. This plan backfires when the boys falsely accuse her of abuse, and though they recant almost immediately, Gabe Buchanan, the “off-the charts gorgeous” chief of police, is forced to get involved. As Mallory works to prove she’s a capable mother under Gabe’s watchful eye, Gabe fights his late wife’s mother for custody of his own children. Though Gabe and Mallory try to resist their attraction, the more time they spend together the harder it is to deny that their fractured families fit together. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the many disparate subplots featuring the large cast of townsfolk, which distract from both the sweet, family-centric romance and the seasonal atmosphere. Series readers will be excited to return to Highland Falls, but the uninitiated will struggle with this one. Agent: Pamela Harty, the Knight Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Claiming His Bollywood Cinderella

Tara Pammi. Harlequin Presents, $5.25 mass market (224p) ISBN 978-1-335-14900-8

The red-hot first Born into Bollywood romance from Pammi (The Flaw in His Marriage Plan) pairs Vikram Raawal, a Bollywood superstar who’s used to getting everything he wants, with his grandmother’s new assistant, Naina Menon, a woman who can’t be bought. Though Vikram and Naina’s first meeting ends in a bitter argument, their next encounter at a masked ball leads to a passionate one-night stand. Naina knows who Vikram is, but she refuses to reveal her own identity during this steamy encounter, so he calls her Dream Girl in lieu of a name. The liaison leaves Vikram smitten and determined to pursue her, whoever she is. Readers will be pleased that Pammi avoids an unbelievable mistaken-identity story line; Vikram recognizes Naina as his Dream Girl immediately during their next unmasked encounter but, when Naina doesn’t acknowledge their night together, he follows her lead, pretending to still be in the dark as to her identity. Then Naina’s family hits dire financial straits, and she asks Vikram if she can work as his personal secretary to earn extra money—but keeping things professional proves difficult for them both. This sexy fairy tale is a treat. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Forever With You

Barb Curtis. Forever, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-5387-0307-6

Populated with empathetic characters but light on plot, Curtis’s breezy debut offers a heartbreaker a second chance with his high school sweetheart. Leyna Milan has a taxing but fulfilling job revitalizing her late grandfather’s restaurant, but her life is turned upside down when her ex, Jay Wynter, swoops back into small-town Sapphire Springs, N.Y., after 18 years away to take over his family’s winery. Now Leyna and Jay are forced to work together as they gear up for the town’s summer festival. Though savvy businesswoman Leyna and dashing but undemanding Jay are characters readers will want to root for, Curtis never provides enough conflict to give readers the chance. The will-they-won’t-they question is answered before the halfway point, and minor challenges—including a jealous love interest and a media fiasco—get resolved equally quickly. Though not a page-turner, Curtis’s sweet, summery romance will please readers looking for something light. Agent: Stacey Graham, Red Sofa Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2020 | Details & Permalink

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