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Once a Laird

Mary Jo Putney. Zebra, $8.99 Mass Market (368p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4812-1

A woman falls for her deceased sister’s former fiancé in Putney’s dull sixth Rogues Redeemed romance (after Once Dishonored), set in 1800s Scotland. Kai Ramsey returns to Thorsay Island to take over his ailing grandfather’s responsibilities as Laird. He hasn’t been back since the death of his betrothed, Gisela Matheson, 12 years ago, leaving to travel and mourn before eventually becoming a spy for the crown. Meanwhile, Gisela’s younger sister, Signy, stayed behind and became Kai’s grandfather’s deputy. Signy has always blamed Kai for Gisela’s death by miscarriage, but now that they’re thrown back together, she realizes Kai wasn’t at fault and the two bond over their shared love of her sister, his grandfather, and the islands. Kai is finally ready to settle down after his adventures abroad, but Signy is eager to travel and finally put herself first. Though these conflicting desires keep them from acting on their acknowledged attraction, Signy promises to stick around for at least three months to train Kai in his new role. The pull between Signy and Kai feels weak at best, more like two old friends getting reacquainted than a potential couple. Though the setting and supporting cast are well developed, the lackluster chemistry disappoints. This is one to skip. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Electric Idol

Katee Robert. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $14.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-72823-176-1

Robert’s sensational second Dark Olympus romance (after Neon Gods) pairs social media influencer Psyche Dimitriou with hired gun Eros in a thrilling struggle against the forces that rule the futuristic, dystopian city of Olympus. When Psyche impulsively helps Eros, the son of her mother’s rival, Aphrodite, clean himself up after a hit job, a paparazzi shot of the two together sparks speculation of their involvement. The evil, image-conscious Aphrodite, a powerful politician, can’t abide the rumors and demands Psyche’s heart on a platter (literally). But Eros devises a way to protect her from his mother’s wrath: through marriage. If Psyche is his bride, his mother can’t touch her. The sham match quickly gives rise to sizzling sex scenes and genuine emotions, leaving Eros ready to protect Psyche with his life. Eros makes a complicated hero; his willingness to knock off his mother’s foes is off-putting, but, like a fairy tale prince awakened by a kiss, this tortured soul allows love to transform him. Meanwhile, plus-size Psyche’s conviction, feistiness, and passion will inspire and empower readers. Cameos from the first installment’s lovers will delight fans, while the steamy, fast-paced story will have new and old readers alike turning the pages as quickly as possible. This satisfies on every level. Agent: Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Siren of Sussex

Mimi Matthews. Berkley, $16 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-593-33713-4

Matthews (Fair as a Star) opens her Belles of London series with a tender and swoonworthy interracial, cross-class romance in Victorian London. White British equestrienne Evelyn Maltravers is desperate for a successful London season; following the disgrace of her older sister, Fenny, it falls to Evelyn to make a match that will secure both their futures. Half-Indian, half-English dressmaker Ahmad Malik knows that the right society lady wearing his designs will secure him enough business to purchase the dress shop where he works. When Ahmad’s client, Lady Heatherton, rescinds her order after Ahmad rejects her sexual advances, Ahmad pins his hopes on designing for Evelyn instead. As the necessary intimacy of dress fittings and consultations gives rise to attraction, Evelyn finds her prospects on the marriage market lacking compared to Ahmad. But confessing their mutual desire is just the first step in conquering the varied threats to their happiness. The societal obstacles to their relationship and thoughtful exploration of multiracial identity ground the romance, striking a delicate balance between grim period-typical attitudes and fluffy joy. Ahmad and Evelyn both marry impressive fierceness with understandable insecurities, making them a couple to root for. Readers will delight in this paean to women’s fashion and horseback riding. Agent: Sarah Hershman, Hershman Rights Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Shine a Light

Rebecca Crowley. Tule, $3.99 e-book (232p) ASIN B097QD549C

Despite a predictable premise where two directors must come together to pull off a community production for the holidays, the first Orchard Hill romance from Crowley (Off the Record) manages to feel fresh with its focus on Reform Judaism and community. When aspiring actor Ellie Bloom returns to her hometown of Orchard Hill, Mo., to stay with her sister after accidentally setting fire to her St. Louis apartment, she’s not looking to set down roots. She’s finally saved enough to move to Hollywood, leaving painful memories of her mother’s premature death behind her, and hopes to make her dream a reality soon. Still, she can’t say no when her nephews beg her to direct their temple’s Hanukkah play, not realizing that she won’t be the only director. Firefighter Jonah Spellman hopes directing the play will prove to his rabbi father that, despite dropping out of seminary, he remains committed to his family and his faith. Neither Ellie nor Jonah can help their mutual attraction, and despite Ellie’s plans to leave town, a sweet romance blooms between them as they merge directing styles and the play comes together. Crowley has a light, compassionate touch with both the central couple and Orchard Hill’s broader community, both Jewish and not. Readers will find plenty to enjoy here. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Rebel and the Rake

Emily Sullivan. Forever, $8.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-3734-7

The lovers in Sullivan’s immersive second League of Scoundrels Victorian romance (after A Rogue to Remember) must reveal their innermost secrets to ensure their happy ending. Sylvia Sparrow has put aside a shady past to become a lady’s companion to Mrs. Crawford, helping her to write her colorful memoirs while staying at Scotland’s Castle Blackwood. When the castle’s owner, Mr. Wardale, hosts a house party, it throws Sylvia in the path of Rafe Davies, the rakish son of an earl and a spy for the crown. Mr. Wardale invited Rafe in hopes that Rafe can help uncover who has been threatening him and stealing his documents. Though Sylvia’s mistrustful of men after being betrayed in a previous relationship, there’s no denying her immediate spark with Rafe. When an unknown blackmailer threatens to reveal Sylvia’s secret past unless she steals an envelope from Mr. Wardale’s chambers, Sylvia agrees—but then the blackmailer puts Rafe in danger, and Sylvia comes clean in order to keep him safe, though doing so risks her reputation, her livelihood, and her chance at love. The subterfuge provides an intense backdrop that only enhances the complex romance between Sullivan’s intelligent, progressive protagonists. Readers will be taken by independent Sylvia’s quest for love and companionship. Agent: Amanda Jain, BookEnds. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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An Accidental Odyssey

K.C. Dyer. Berkley, $16 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-10206-0

A young woman sets out on an unexpected adventure in this unfocused romance from Dyer (Eighty Days to Elsewhere). Aspiring journalist Gia Kostas is living “every girl’s dream” in her engagement to Anthony Hearst, one of New York City’s most eligible bachelors. Though their relationship is far from perfect, she’s convinced Anthony is what she’s supposed to want. But when her absent father, retired history professor Aristotle Kostas, who recently suffered a minor stroke, abruptly leaves for Greece without his medicine, Gia abandons wedding planning to follow him—sparking a massive fight and maybe breakup with Anthony. Upon arriving in Athens, she unwinds at a bar and ends up in bed with a handsome stranger. The next day, her flighty father explains his wistful quest to retrace Odysseus’s steps and introduces her to his colleague and travel partner, Rajnish Malik—who Gia recognizes as her one-night stand. Despite the complication Rajnish’s presence poses, Gia agrees to join them, embracing the opportunity to discover who her father really is—and find herself in the process. Dyer nails the comedic tone—especially in scenes depicting Aristotle’s antics—but the messy, overcrowded plot often meanders. This is best suited for Dyer’s die-hard fans. Agent: Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Fifth Sense

Michelle M. Pillow. The Raven Books, $19.99 (250p) ISBN 978-1-62501-293-7

Bestseller Pillow’s fluffy fifth Order of Magic paranormal romance (after The Fourth Power) eschews the heavier elements of its dark premise to draw readers into a supportive magical world hidden beneath the mundane. Sue Jewel is grateful to be alive; just after her 40th birthday, her abusive husband, Hank, decided that she’d outlived her usefulness and stuffed her in the trunk of his car. Luckily, the car accident that killed Hank saved Sue’s life. After being released from the hospital, she’s plagued by sensory phantasmic reminders of Hank—from tasting his bourbon and cigarettes, to catching glimpses of his face—until a mysterious silver ring she discovers among her belongings leads her to small-town Freewild, N.C. There, she finds a community theater with a long history of the supernatural and a small group of magical women already inducted into the sisterhood of the silver ring. As she finds a home within their ranks, she also develops a connection with coffee shop owner Jameson Lloyd, who adds some brightness to her world. It’s a story of recovery that doesn’t dig too deep into trauma or grief, instead focusing on the healing power of friendship. The romance is a bit perfunctory, but the cast of women and their bond resonates. This is a delight. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Life Revamp

Kris Ripper. Carina Adores, $14.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-335-42455-6

Ripper’s smart, sexy, and banter-filled final Love Study romance (after The Hate Project) gets the loving polyamorous ‘V’ dynamic just right. Mason Ertz-Scott balks when his uninspiring relationship threatens to get serious and instead takes his colleague Claris up on an introduction to her fashion designer husband, Diego Flores, with whom she has an open relationship. Diego and Mason immediately hit it off, and—after Mason’s friends encourage him and Diego reassures Mason that he’s interested in a real relationship—they move the giggly fun and undeniable chemistry they have together to the bedroom. Claris’s support of the men’s romance extends both to setting up a thoughtful morning coffee tray after their first overnight and inviting Mason to run social media for Diego’s upcoming show, but Mason still has trouble believing he won’t get burnt by falling in love with a married man. To make things work, he’ll have to adjust his understanding of what love and relationships can be. Healthy, jealousy-free interpersonal dynamics and social support across the board provide a low-conflict feel to the playful love story, and characterization that makes it clear that neither Claris nor Diego are angling for a threesome keeps the story within a classic romance structure despite the unconventional setup. Readers will find themselves grinning from cover to cover. Agent: Courtney Miller-Callihan, Handspun Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Hookup Dilemma

Constance Gillam. Entangled Amara, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-68281-572-4

Gillam (the Lakota series) delivers a steamy romance following two people on opposite sides of a battle over the gentrification of a neighborhood. Rashida Howard is a food critic who avoids one-night stands. Elliott Quinn’s a workaholic architect with no time for love. But when they meet in a crowded Atlanta bar, they have instant chemistry. After hours of heated banter, they each break character by hooking up in the hotel across the street. The dilemma? It turns out that Elliott’s father’s company—which Elliott is temporarily running—is planning to develop a commercial building in Rashida’s grandmother’s neighborhood, while Rashida is fighting to prevent construction and save the area from impending gentrification. Now they must resist their attraction and ignore their undeniable chemistry to fight from their separate corners and maintain their integrity—a task that only grows harder when their feelings deepen into love. Gillam’s heartwarming romance demonstrates how happily-ever-afters can arise from even the most unfortunate of situations. This will undoubtedly make readers smile. Agent: Amanda Leuck, Spencerhill Assoc. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Hunted

Lisa Childs. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5022-3

Childs returns to Bane Island (first visited in The Runaway) to deliver a page-turning romantic thriller. Pop star Olivia Smith is hiding out from a stalker with an extended stay at Halcyon Hall, a posh spa and clinic on the tiny Maine island. The facility was once Bainesworth Manor psychiatric hospital, and 25 years before the start of the novel, now-sheriff Deacon Howell found his first dead body on its grounds—and there have been others since, among them Deacon’s late wife. When another body is discovered during Olivia’s stay, Olivia and Deacon are thrown into the line of fire of an unknown killer and they grow tantalizingly closer while trying to stay alive. Childs paces her mystery well, with a plethora of red herrings that will keep readers guessing right up to the end. The appealing, nuanced central couple are surrounded by a strong supporting cast, led by Deacon’s surly yet sweet daughter, Holly, a moody teenager who will ring true to parents. Bane Island may be a dangerous place, but readers will look forward to coming back. Agent: Michelle Grajkowski, Three Seas Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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