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Goodbye Again

Mariah Stewart. Montlake, $12.95 trade paper (380p) ISBN 978-1-5420-3307-7

Stewart returns to Wyndham Beach, Mass., (first visited in An Invincible Summer) for a lighthearted tale of love and reinvention refreshingly centered on an older heroine. Divorced 59-year-old Lydia Bryant has spent four years grieving the death by suicide of her only child, Jessica. In an attempt to rebuild her life, she acquires a run-down bookstore and hopes her enthusiasm for literature will help her to revitalize both the space and her life. Lydia gradually finds herself again with the help of longtime friends Maggie and Emma—as well as widowed father Tuck Shelby, the contractor she enlists to help renovate the shop. As they spend time together, Lydia feels a spark she hasn’t experienced in years—but then her ex-husband, Jim, returns, hoping to reconnect. Her emotions thrown off kilter, Lydia must decide if she wants to pick up a new book or reread an old one. It takes some time for the pace to pick up, but Stewart’s simple, engrossing prose conjures believable characters, and she approaches Jessica’s suicide with empathy and understanding. The strength of the female friendships especially shines through, bolstering the love story. Readers will be eager for more. Agent: Nick Mullendore, Vertical Ink Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Sweetheart Deal

Miranda Liasson. Entangled Amara, $8.99 mass market (330p) ISBN 978-1-64937-027-3

Liasson (Coming Home to Seashell Harbor) charms with her witty Blossom Glen series launch, a modern twist on Romeo and Juliet. A year after Tessa Montgomery’s fiancé dumped her, their breakup is still the hottest gossip in small-town Blossom Glen, Ind., where she’s struggling to keep her family’s bakery afloat. Then Leo Castorini returns to town to help out with his family’s nearby restaurant. The Montgomery and Castorini families have been rivals ever since one of Leo’s ancestors jilted a Montgomery at the altar. Though Tessa had a crush on Leo in high school, their family feud kept them apart. Now both struggle to be taken seriously by their parents, until Leo floats a scheme to make their parents pay attention—and save both family businesses—by faking a marriage. Tessa reluctantly agrees, on the condition that they go their separate ways after six months. But as they work together to convince their loved ones the marriage is real, a genuine connection forms. Liasson brings her idyllic small town to life with a close-knit, engaging cast; humor; and sparkling romance. Readers will be cheering for Leo and Tessa to find their happily ever after. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Afraid

Lisa Jackson, Alexandra Ivy, and Lisa Childs. Zebra, $9.99 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5363-7

These three flawed romantic suspense novellas are linked by a fun but underutilized central conceit: that all three heroines are alumnae of the same exclusive Austrian boarding school. In Jackson’s “Retribution,” young Lucy Champagne witnesses an attack on her movie star mother and sends the perpetrator to prison with her testimony. When he’s released 25 years later, Lucy hides out in an isolated cabin with her daughter, spending most of the dull plot waiting for him to find her and fretting. The final twist is surprising but nonsensical and delivered with a shrug, and there’s only the barest hint of romance. Ivy’s “Ghosts” is more satisfying, as Rayne Taylor discovers that her high school roommate, Nat, who supposedly died by suicide, was in fact murdered and teams up with Nat’s brother to find the killer. Unfortunately, the murderer’s identity is telegraphed too early, defanging the climax. “Alone” by Childs sees Erin MacDonald return to the family estate where she and her sister, Anna Beth, were kidnapped as children. Erin was returned with no memory of what happened, but Anna Beth never came home. As Erin’s memories resurface, Childs creates an effective mystery and a sweet romance with the detective on the case, but the writing itself is clumsy and repetitive. This is an easy one to skip. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Rake Gets Ravished

Sophie Jordan. Avon, $8.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-303567-6

Jordan’s deliciously scandalous second Duke Hunt romance (after The Duke Goes Down) returns to a vision of the Regency era where sin is in. A spinster at 26, farmer’s daughter Mercy Kittinger is burdened with raising her 17-year-old sister, Grace, and cleaning up after her good-for-nothing twin brother, Bede, whose idea of a good time entails losing the family house and lands in a London gaming hall. Mercy’s not about to let her livelihood go without a fight, so she makes her way to town to confront Silas Masters, the hall’s attractive owner, and get their assets back—through seduction and theft if necessary. To say their first meeting is explosive is putting it mildly, but the real trouble starts when the unflappable and rather stubborn Silas follows Mercy home and shows no sign of leaving. While Silas tends to avoid romance thanks to a complicated past, Mercy captures his interest beyond all reason. Though familiar fare, the decadent seduction scenes and sex-positive message are sure to draw readers in, and the realistically drawn characters and passionate love story will hold their interest. This is a treat. Agent: Maura E. Kye-Casella, Don Congdon Assoc. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Meet Me in the Margins

Melissa Ferguson. Thomas Nelson, $16.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7852-3107-3

Ferguson (The Cul-de-Sac War) enchants with this whimsical tale set against the evergreen culture war between literary and commercial fiction. Savannah Cade, an assistant acquisitions editor at Nashville’s stately Pennington Publishing House, hides her love of the romance genre and the novel she’s writing from her colleagues—until she accidentally drops her unpublished manuscript at the feet of her new boss, Will Pennington, whose CEO mother has recruited him to rescue their failing enterprise. Desperate to hide the evidence before anyone else sees, Savannah stashes her manuscript in a hidden room that few employees know exists, but when she returns to claim it, she finds that a mysterious editor has marked up the pages she thought ready for publication. Though initially indignant, Savannah takes the advice and comes back for more, falling for her unknown editor’s charming way with words and spot-on advice—while simultaneously softening to her stern boss, though she’s still sure he disapproves of her romance habit. An idealistic, competent heroine, a swoon-worthy hero, and delightfully quirky supporting characters bolster this often hilarious send up of the publishing industry, which doubles as a love letter to the power of stories. This is sure to win Ferguson some new fans. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Love, Hate & Clickbait

Liz Bowery. Mira, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1189-8

Bowery’s promising debut has handsome political consultant Thom Morgan anxious to propel California governor Leonora Westwood to the White House. But “Lennie” is adept at putting her foot in her mouth and is often sabotaged by a leaker. As damage control for Lennie’s most recent gaff—a homophobic comment to a reporter—Thom is asked to fake-date his colleague, Clay Parker, a data analyst. Clay and Thom hate each other, but their unlikely “Schrödinger’s Relationship” becomes an internet sensation, thanks in part to a photo of them kissing at a charity basketball game. Soon the guys are playing footsie under the table and spending quality time together. As Clay falls for Thom’s “intoxicating smile, infuriatingly perfect body, and easy charm,” he fears their fake relationship is going to end in heartbreak. Then Lennie asks the guys to get married to help her campaign, and things go into hyperdrive. Bowery keeps the romance light and engaging, with some delightfully cheesy moments and domestic scenes, and delineates the politics in a subplot about a student loan reform bill that Thom is pushing. With political intrigue, social media virality, fake dating, and an enemies-to-lovers romance, there’s arguably a bit too much going on here. Still, it’s a charming, breezy rom-com. Agent: Laura Zats, Headwater Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Thief and the Noble

Dana LeCheminant. Covenant Communications, $15.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-5244-1708-6

LeCheminant (the Simple Love Story series) launches her Robin Hood Regency series with a sweet, aristocratic twist on the Robin Hood legend. Lady Marian Russell takes a stint as a kitchen maid at a London tavern so she can better understand the difficulties faced by those less fortunate. The job lands her literally in the lap of noble thief Robin, who, believing her to be poor, offers her money he stole from the rich. Marian and Robin are surprised when they meet again at a ball and Marian realizes that Robin is really Lord Robert Loxley, Earl of Huntingdon. They agree to keep each other’s secrets, and Marian convinces him to take her along on a thieving expedition, impressing Robin with her resilience and beauty. When the pair discover that there’s another prominent—and far more dangerous—thief operating in London, they risk revealing their hearts to one another as they work to learn the criminal’s identity. LeCheminant’s progressive aristocratic protagonists are refreshing and appealing as they discover love along the way in their quest to help those wronged by their fellow nobles. Fans of earnest, chaste romance and characters who defy societal norms will be well pleased. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Asking for a Friend

Andi Osho. HQN, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-00-847895-7

Lies and past hurt upend a friend group in comedian Osho’s laugh-out-loud debut rom-com. To help aspiring actor Simi break her habit of falling in love too quickly, her two best friends agree to all find dates for each other. Talent agent Meagan, who represents Simi and whose life plan doesn’t include a relationship, is just along for the ride, while writer Jemima hopes to use the experiment as fodder for her next book. The trio perfectly balance each other even as Osho shows how their individual issues hold each of them back romantically: Simi, who has a troubled relationship with her father, must learn to trust her own judgment; Jemima keeps pushing away the handsome therapist who’s interested in her; and fiercely independent Meagan keeps her friend with benefits at arm’s length even when Meagan wants more. The women’s friendship takes a nosedive when Simi searches for a new agent without telling Meagan, Jemima uses her friends’ stories without their permission, and Meagan’s controlling behavior goes overboard. Can they save both friendship and the love they’ve found along the way? Osho navigates these strained relationships with emotional nuance and dry, sarcastic humor. With as much focus on platonic love as romantic, this paean to sisterhood and personal growth is sure to charm. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Mr. Wrong Number

Lynn Painter. Berkley, $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-43726-1

Painter’s cute adult debut (after the YA novel Better Than the Movies) features a couple whose chemistry via text message complicates their IRL relationship. Through a comedy of errors, Olivia Marshall loses her job, her boyfriend, and her apartment all in one day. She moves in with her brother until she can get back on her feet—but this means putting up with his dickish (and scorching hot) roommate, Colin Beck. Meanwhile, she finds work writing a parenting column for the local newspaper, having failed to correct her editor’s assumption that she has children of her own. When Olivia receives a suggestive text from an unknown number, she quickly sets the sender straight—but their immediate witty rapport means neither wants to stop texting. Soon she’s exchanging daily messages with “Mr. Wrong Number.” While their texts lean flirtatious, she’s happy to stick to an on-screen relationship with her anonymous confidant. Then Colin accidentally sees a text on Olivia’s phone—and he’s shocked to discover that she is his own “Miss Misdial.” He decides to ghost her instead of complicating their relationship—but Olivia doesn’t give up so easily. Olivia’s over-the-top clumsiness feels like a relic of rom-coms past, but her chemistry with Colin sings. This is sure to charm. Agent: Kim Lionetti; Bookends Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Say You’ll Be My Lady

Kate Pembrooke. Forever, $8.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-0377-9

A gentlemanly former boxer meets his match in a stubborn socialite in Pembrooke’s diverting second Unconventional Ladies of Mayfair romance (after Not the Kind of Earl You Mary). Lady Serena Wynter is dedicated to righting injustices through her social club. Though at 23 she’s given up hopes of matrimony and motherhood, she’s keen to strike up a dalliance with her handsome, sweet-natured friend Charles Townshend. Charles is attracted to beautiful, fiercely independent Serena, but declines her advances, fearing their connection will damage her reputation due to their class differences and his unsavory family history. His concern is heightened when Serena takes in Jem, a homeless boy, who soon becomes attached to them both—and whose presence in their lives could spark malicious gossip. But headstrong Serena will not be deterred from her quest to find Jem a forever family—or from her mission to seduce Charles. Pembrooke fills this emotional tale with sparkling dialogue and well-drawn characters working to balance reason and desire. Regency romance fans will delight at Pembrooke’s strong female protagonist who rises above societal limitations and expectations. Agent: Rebecca Strauss, DeFiore and Co. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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