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So True

Serena Bell. Jelsba, $11.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-953498-00-7

Bell continues her contemporary Tierney Bay series (after So Close) with a passionate second-chance romance. When Chiara Campbell’s first love, Jax Walker, ghosted her by leaving town immediately after they had sex for the first time her senior year of high school, Chiara was understandably devastated. In the decade since, she’s become a successful small-business owner and, recently, a surrogate big sister to Jax’s younger brother, Evan, who’s newly returned to Tierney Bay, Ore. When Jax learns that Evan used the college tuition money he provided to open a comic book store in Tierney Bay, he returns to the town he’s always avoided to confront his brother—but his anger turns to fear when he learns that Evan, who has Crohn’s disease, is hospitalized following emergency surgery. In a bid to save Evan’s floundering business while he’s recuperating, Chiara and Jax agree to work together. Their close proximity forces them to face their past, but Jax has never told anyone the real reason he left Tierney Bay and the heavy secret weighs on their rekindling romance. Jax and Chiara are both strong, loyal characters, and Bell does a good job showing how their intense young love lingers with them as adults. Great chemistry and tight familial bonds make for a heartwarming series entry. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Most Eligible Viscount in London

Ella Quinn. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4969-2

Quinn’s alluring second Lords of London Regency romance (after The Most Eligible Lord in London) introduces an admirable heroine determined to find a love match. Georgiana “Georgie” Featherton eagerly anticipates a union with Viscount Gavin Turley—right up until his less-than-romantic proposal. When Gavin proves unable to pronounce his love, Georgie rejects him and leaves London to lick her wounds at Littlewood, the home of her friend Adeline Littleton. Gavin is resistant to falling in love after witnessing his father die of a broken heart shortly after the death of Gavin’s mother. Still, when he discovers Georgie’s flight, he chases after her, hoping to change her mind. Unwelcome at Littlewood, Gavin accepts an invitation from the dowager Lady Littleton to stay at her nearby home instead—and soon Lady Littleton, together with her friends the dowager Duchess of Bridgewater and the dowager Viscountess Featherton, cook up a scheme to reunite the young couple. As Georgie and Gavin’s romance heats up, Gavin’s defenses crumble—but when another suitor enters the picture, he may already be too late. The deliciously complicated courtship between Gavin and Georgie is only enhanced by their meddling friends’ well-meant efforts to propel them toward the altar. Regency fans will be delighted. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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To Love and to Loathe

Martha Waters. Atria, $16.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-982160-87-6

Waters’s irresistibly irreverent second Regency Vows romance (after To Have and to Hoax) pairs young widow Diana Bourne with Jeremy Overington, the Marquess of Willingham, an infamous rake with whom she’s always sparred at society functions. Their rivalry escalates when Diana wagers that Jeremy will be married within a year, planning to use Jeremy’s upcoming house party as an opportunity to hurl eligible ladies at him. But when Jeremy, seeking reassurance about his prowess as a lover after a bad review, requests that Diana join him in a brief, educational affair, the two must confront what their increasing intimacy means for their bet—and their relationship. Hero and heroine alike are delightfully unsentimental, and Waters takes obvious glee in prodding at genre conventions. (Notes Diana, “It was of course incumbent on every aristocratic man to have at least a somewhat tortured relationship with his own father.”) This winking awareness is used to great effect during the lovers’ first romp, when Diana does not immediately convulse with pleasure and instead must school Jeremy on his technique. This dynamic is such fun that it’s almost a shame when Diana and Jeremy’s feelings deepen and the plot becomes more conventional, but the journey to their happy ending is worth every step. Agent: Taylor Haggerty, Root Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Wolf in Duke’s Clothing

Susanna Allen. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $8.99 mass market (312p) ISBN 978-1-72823-036-8

Allen (The Fidelity Project, writing as Susan E. Conley) launches the Shapeshifters of the Beau Monde series with a delightful blend of historical romance and urban fantasy set in 1817 London. Alfred Blakesley, Duke of Lowell, has a problem: for his uniquely structured werewolf pack to survive and thrive, he needs to marry his true mate. Unable to find his mate among his fellow shape-shifters, he turns to London’s marriage mart. At 24, the Honorable Felicity Templeton is firmly on the shelf—a state she delightedly embraces. While Society would see her wed, she dreams of becoming an independent businesswoman. Her tidy plans are upturned, however, after meeting Alfred at a ball. Alfred quickly identifies her as his mate and abducts her, introducing her to the supernatural underworld—a world she’s surprised to find she fits into quite naturally. A playful mix of humor, fantasy, and Regency romance conventions, this genre-bending novel introduces a well-constructed world filled with distinctive and endearing characters. Readers will eagerly await the next installment. Agent: Julie Gwinn, the Seymour Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Hana Khan Carries On

Uzma Jalaluddin. Berkley, $16 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-33636-6

Jalaluddin follows Ayesha at Last with another charming contemporary romance, which maintains a fun, energetic mood while tackling serious themes of prejudice. Twenty-something Hana Khan hopes her radio internship will lead to a career telling important stories, and enjoys the distraction of her online flirtation with the top listener to her anonymous podcast, Ana’s Brown Girl Rambles, on the side. But her mother’s halal restaurant in Toronto’s Golden Crescent faces imminent collapse, forcing Hana to refocus her energies on helping to save it. The situation is exacerbated by the arrival of a new gourmet halal place whose proprietor, Aydin Shah, works to get close to Hana, even as his gentrifying father plots to take down her family’s business. After a video of an anti-Muslim hate crime against Hana and Aydin goes viral, their community comes together to protect them from internet trolls and in-person harassers. Hana and Aydin’s late-in-book romance feels like a bland but believable add-on to their budding friendship. The social dynamics at the radio station and in Toronto’s Indian communities are the real highlights, bound by just enough plot to move the story forward smoothly. Jalaluddin’s fans won’t want to miss this. Agent: Ann Collette, Rees Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Hollywood Heartbreaker

Alexa Aston. Alexa Aston, $11.99 Trade paper (230p) ISBN 979-8-6634-9137-2

Aston (the Dukes of Distinction series) kicks off the Hollywood Name Game series with this sweet, sexy contemporary romance. Cassie Carroll is running late for a job interview at a Hollywood entertainment agency when she swerves her car to avoid hitting a dog and instead runs into a car owned by action star Rhett Corrigan. Rhett rescues Cassie before her car explodes and, after learning that she was on her way to interview with his agency, impulsively offers her a job as his temporary personal assistant. Rhett is impressed with Cassie’s candor and comfort around the rich and famous, and she is grateful for the steady, well-paying job, which comes complete with room and board for her and her roommate, Jolene, in the gatehouse of Rhett’s estate. As Rhett’s relationship with narcissistic model Randi James goes off the rails, the mutual attraction between him and Cassie grows stronger—but he’s reluctant to act on it while she’s still his employee. They’re forced to confront their true feelings, however, when Jolene accidentally leaks information about Rhett’s personal life to the press, resulting in scandal. Aston makes it easy to care about Cassie, a genuine, hardworking woman who maintains her integrity in the glittering world of Hollywood. This fast-paced romance is a treat. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Summer Job

Lizzy Dent. Putnam, $16 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-32811-8

Dent’s stressful debut sees a woman living out a classic anxiety dream as she fudges her way through a job she’s way underqualified for. When Birdy Finch’s best friend, Heather, decides against taking a job as a sommelier at a Scottish inn, Birdy offers to let Heather’s potential employers know. But, on a whim, she doesn’t—deciding a summer in Scotland is just what she herself needs. Though Birdy has no knowledge of wine, the inn’s website shows a run-down cottage with a small, manageable wine list. So when she arrives, posing as Heather, she’s shocked to find a newly renovated Loch Dorn Estate with a Michelin-starred chef helming the restaurant. She flails through her first days on the job before buckling down to study the extensive wine list. She also discovers an interest in cooking and an equal fascination with dedicated but reserved chef James. But can their budding relationship and her friendships among Loch Dorn’s staff survive after they learn she’s not who she claims? The romance is solid, but a key emotional moment happens off-page, making the ending feel unearned, and the side characters outshine self-centered Birdy, making it hard to forgive her deception as her bumbling puts their jobs at risk. Readers will need a high tolerance for anxiety-inducing humor to get into this one. (May)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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She Gets What She Wants

Denise N. Wheatley. Tule, $3.99 e-book (185p) ASIN B08CGG24YG

A woman works hard for her dreams and finds love along the way in the sweet contemporary romance that launches the Fearless Fairy Tale series from Wheatley (Love at the Icicle Café). When Devon Jacobs, who’s already low on self-esteem, confesses her long-standing love to her childhood friend Jason it goes horribly—which means it’s the perfect time for her friend Gabby, who works in Hollywood, to call and tell her a television production assistant job is hers for the taking. Devon needs a fresh start and always dreamed of writing for television, so she jumps at the chance. And the move from Indiana to Los Angeles improves her life immediately: she lives in Gabby’s gorgeous guest house in Beverly Hills, impresses the head writer on her show, builds her self-confidence, and strikes up a friendship with actor Ryan Roberts that quickly starts to feel like something more. But her friends from home aren’t as supportive as she hoped they’d be, forcing Devon to choose between them and the new life she’s created. Devon is an admirable heroine and she and Ryan make a cute couple. With as much focus on Devon’s personal growth as on her relationship with Ryan, this charming story effortlessly straddles the line between women’s fiction and romance. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Someone Wanton His Way Comes

Christi Caldwell. Montlake, $12.95 trade paper (334p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2139-5

Regency-era women decry the institution of marriage and cause an uproar among men in need of heirs in the sluggish first Wantons of Waverton Place romance from Caldwell (the Wicked Wallflowers series). After suffering through a loveless marriage, widowed mother Lady Sylvia Elton, the Countess of Norfolk, vows never to marry again and becomes the proud leader of the Wantons of Waverton, a society that educates women on how best to avoid the constraining role of wife. But as the members’ reputations are slandered by men who feel spurned by their progressive stance on courtship, Sylvia needs a way to make the society more respectable. She offers temporary membership to her friend Clayton Kearsley, the Viscount St. John, believing his gender and spotless reputation make him the perfect mouthpiece to dispel London’s gossip. Clayton has always held a torch for Sylvia, but believing he’s been cursed to die young, he’s never acted on his feelings. Working together quickly gives way to steamy, spontaneous sex scenes, but the rest of the plot moves at a much slower clip. Caldwell provides enough secrets, scandals, and scheming to keep the lovers on their toes, but bogs down the drama in exposition. Readers will be taken with the premise, but hope for better execution in future installments. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Prize Money

Celeste Castro. Interlude, $16.99 trade paper (254p) ISBN 978-1-951954-03-1

Two competitive women find love on the professional rodeo circuit in this exciting lesbian romance from Castro (The Taking). Equestrian stuntwoman Toma Rozene returns home to help run the family ranch after her father is injured in a rodeo bullfight. On the flight home to Idaho, she’s saved from breaking down with worry by the kindness of Eva Angeles, a professional barrel racer who offers to sit with her. Neither woman expects to see the other again after the flight, but fate has other plans, as the pair cross paths at a rodeo competition where Toma rescues Eva from the path of a raging bull. The incident sparks a fast friendship, and the women bond over their shared passions for horses and the outdoors—not to mention their undeniable attraction and deepening feelings for one another. But once friendship builds to romance, their love is tested as Toma and Eva realize how divided their plans for the future are. Castro clearly knows her stuff, capturing rodeo culture and the thrill of competition in action-packed scenes. The characters’ flirty banter and believable foundation of friendship, meanwhile, make up for a rushed ending that ties everything up a bit too neatly. Readers are in for a riveting ride. (May)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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