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Two to Tangle

Melissa Brayden. Bold Strokes, $16.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-63555-747-3

Pairing a new-to-town chef and a local contractor, Brayden (To the Moon and Back) spins an irresistible contemporary lesbian romance. Upstate New York chef Gabriella Russo moves to Whisper Wall, Ore., to become the executive chef at Tangle Valley, a restaurant attached to a vineyard. She quickly hits it off with beautiful contractor Ryan Jacks, who’s hired to renovate the restaurant. But the road to true love hits some bumps as both women guard their hearts—Gabriella, because Ryan has a reputation as a player, and Ryan, because she’s never been in love before. Ryan’s also intimidated by Gabriella’s ex-girlfriend Madison, with whom Gabriella is still close friends in accordance with “the lesbian rulebook.” Brayden has a gift for imbuing her characters with heart and soul, and readers will quickly warm to both Gabriella and Ryan and the adorably sassy supporting characters, especially the Biddies, a group of septuagenarian gossipers. Brayden makes her characters work for their inevitable happy ending, and the realistic romantic pitfalls are balanced by easygoing humor throughout. Readers will look forward to more trips to Whisper Wall. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Her Kind of Cowboy

Dylann Crush. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-10166-7

Crush’s disappointing second Tying the Knot in Texas romance (after The Cowboy Says I Do) throws two animal-loving loners together to stage an over-the-top winter wonderland–themed wedding in southeast Texas—in August. The premise promises frothy rom-com madness, but the plot never quite gels. After working in Antarctica for six months, Alex Sanders, a peripatetic Texan, receives a lucrative offer to train and house penguins in Ido, Tex., so that a wealthy socialite can bring her extravagant dream wedding to life. That and familial demands get him back to his home state, but it takes a multitude of additional mishaps to connect Alex with Zina Baxter, the proprietor of a struggling local pitbull shelter and his eventual partner in handling the wedding planning insanity. It’s a lot of convoluted footwork just to get the two working together, and once they are, their forced proximity and banter can only take the relationship so far. Alex’s immaturity, indecision about his feelings, and chronic wanderlust pose serious impediments to their romantic progress, and with such an overstuffed plot there isn’t enough space for him to grow into a convincing partner. Crush’s comic style remains, but many readers will be underwhelmed by the love story. Agent: Jessica Watterson, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Archangel’s Sun

Nalini Singh. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-19812-4

The war may be over, but the nightmare lingers on in Singh’s 13th Guild Hunter paranormal romance (following Archangel’s War). In the aftermath of devastating worldwide conflict, Titus, the charismatic and commanding Archangel of Africa, struggles to rebuild. That difficult task is made harder by the fact that his lands are still infested with creatures called the reborn, undead beings that feast on flesh and spread infectious disease. Finding and destroying their nests is priority one, but Titus’s resources are scarce and most other Archangels are preoccupied with postwar tasks of their own. So the Cadre send Titus an unlikely but invaluable helper in Lady Sharine, aka the Hummingbird, an artist known as much for her mental fragility as her work. Though Titus initially worries that the mere sound of his booming voice will terrify Sharine and send her swooning from the sky, Sharine turns out to be a happy warrior who flies solo, prefers pants and tunics to jewels and gowns, and throws herself into even the bloodiest work. Their unlikely alliance and perilous quest to eliminate the reborn keep the pages turning. Though series newcomers will struggle to get oriented, devoted readers will relish watching this charismatic and surprisingly playful partnership grow. Agent: Nephele Tempest, the Knight Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Secret Nights with a Cowboy

Caitlin Crews. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-62549-6

Crews opens her Kittredge Ranch contemporary romance series with this sizzling tale of an off-the-rails marriage. Rae Trujillo, a gifted florist and “her own worst enemy,” married handsome horse trainer Riley Kittredge immediately after high school. For more than 10 years, Rae’s secret yearning for a baby has tormented her, as Riley has always been very vocal about not wanting children. Rae moved back in with her parents years ago and everyone in their small Colorado town believes that Rae and Riley are already divorced, but they’ve never made it official. Rae still frequently returns to Riley’s house to pick fights that inevitably end in torrid bouts of lovemaking. When Rae finally does ask for a divorce, Riley, who suffered through his parents’ rocky marriage, sets out to smooth things over with a peace offensive. They decide to try to break the cycle of sex and fighting by becoming friends—but it’s not long before they complicate things by falling back into bed. Mercifully, their kind, supporting relatives—many of whom readers will be familiar with from Crews’s Cold River series—are at hand to help them sort things out. Though the plot is somewhat contrived, the romance is red-hot. Fans will rejoice that Crews has two more rowdy Kittredge brothers to pair off in future installments. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Truly Madly Plaid

Eliza Knight. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-72820-035-4

Knight’s action-packed second Prince Charlie’s Angels romance (after The Rebel Wears Plaid) highlights an admirable heroine who regularly puts herself in danger to heal others. In 1746 Scotland, Annie MacPhearson and her family dedicate their lives to retaking their homeland from the English. Annie becomes a healer, while her older brother, Graham, fights in the Jacobite rebellion. Despite a rocky first impression, Annie soon becomes enamored of Lt. Craig MacLean, a fierce warrior and Graham’s closest friend—and he finds Annie equally bewitching. After a devastating loss for the Jacobites, Annie rushes to help heal the wounded and finds Graham dead and Craig badly injured. She takes Craig and the few other survivors into her care, working both to heal them and to hide them from the British dragoons who hunt them. Annie and Craig’s fear of being caught is palpable, and Knight keeps the stakes high without ever losing track of the sweet and steamy romance. Fans will be impressed by how gracefully Knight builds on the setting and politics of the first installment, and new readers will have no problem jumping in. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Off Limits Attraction

Jayci Lee. Harlequin Desire, $5.25 mass market (224p) ISBN 978-1-335-20951-1

Family loyalty is tested in the cute but formulaic finale to Lee’s Heirs of Hansol series (after Secret Crush Seduction). Jihae Park’s princess persona was “meticulously created by the Park family’s PR specialist.” Her polished image as the v-p of Rotelle Entertainment and heiress to the Rotelle Corporation is all the world knows of her. L.A. music producer Colin Song keeps his relation to the powerful Hansol family hidden, wishing to be judged on his character rather than his family connections. When Colin gets the opportunity to partner with Rotelle Entertainment, which he believes was behind a corporate espionage attempt against his cousin, the CEO of Hansol Corporation, he sees a chance to do some sleuthing. He takes the job, hoping to find evidence of the scheme against his family by getting close to Jihae—but he’s surprised to find she’s not at all the spoiled princess she appears to be. And though being with Colin could threaten Jihae’s carefully crafted image, she’s drawn to his adventurous spirit. Lee creates some truly sweet moments as the pair fall in love against their better judgments, but the moments of charm founder amid a cookie-cutter plot and thinly drawn characters. There’s some fun to be had here, but readers will hope Lee returns to form in her next project. Agent: Sarah Younger, Nancy Yost Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Beauty Among Ruins

J’nell Ciesielski. Thomas Nelson, $16.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-7852-3356-5

A Scottish lord and an American socialite discover love during WWI in this gorgeous historical romance from Ciesielski (The Socialite). Lily Durham’s parents send her to live with her cousins in England for the summer to curb her wayward behavior in New York. But once there, Lily absconds to Scotland with her cousin Bertie, hoping to meet handsome soldiers while working as aides at a convalescent home in Kinclavoch Castle. The castle’s brooding owner, Alec MacGregor, will do whatever it takes to keep possession of his ancestral home despite mounting debt. But when a soldier is kidnapped from an ambulance en route to Kinclavoch, the newspapers implicate Alec. As mysterious accidents continue at Kinclavoch, Alec seeks to clear his name and find the person responsible—and all the while he and Lily grow closer. Then Lily’s parents demand that she return home or lose her allowance, and Lily must decide if she can risk her financial stability for a chance at love. Lily’s transformation from a pampered party girl into a selfless nurse is riveting, and the blossoming romance between her and Alec is both electric and believable. The undercurrent of mystery and Ciesielski’s unflinching approach to the harsh realities of wartime only enhance the love story. Readers are sure to be impressed. Agent: Linda Glaz, Hartline Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Brains and Brawn

R.L. Merrill. Celie Bay, $4.99 e-book (300p) ASIN B08DC8VDT8

Merrill’s diverting if formulaic second romance to feature the members of metalcore band Hush (following The Summer of Hush) kicks off when Paul McNally, a bisexual Navy corpsman facing retirement, takes his son, Bowie, to attend the Warped Tour. Paul gets into a flirtatious verbal sparring match about music with Hush drummer Billy “Brains” Brennan that leaves both men romantically intrigued. When Brains is injured in an accident at a meet-and-greet, Paul, who is trained in emergency medical treatment, comes to the rescue. Paul further insists that Brains recuperate at his home rather than on the tour bus. As the men slowly bond and fall into cozy domesticity, a health crisis emerges that threatens their happiness. While there are some intimate moments, including a sensual massage scene, the emphasis of this modest romance is less on sex and more on how both men must realign their priorities to move forward. Brains may never play again, while Paul has to determine what to do after retirement. They also grapple with how Bowie, who Paul has never come out to, will respond to their relationship. The result is low-stakes and comforting, even if the soundtrack is loud. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Big Tow: An Unlikely Romance

Ann McMan. Bywater, $17.95 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-1-61294-184-4

Repo romance might not be a genre, but two-time Lambda Literary Award–winner McMan (Galileo) makes a case that it should be with this delicious and hilarious fever-dream of a novel. When Vera “Nick” Nicholson, a struggling, 37-year-old junior legal associate, is dispatched to retrieve a luxury car stolen from one of her firm’s clients, her search launches her into the world of the National Recovery Bureau. Among the bureau’s outrageous assortment of grifters is Frankie Stohler, a Jennifer Aniston look-alike who can get away with just about anything in a blink of her innocent baby blues. Lured by helpless lust and the promise of a larger pay day, Nick partners with Frankie on a rapidly escalating series of improbable heists, including “recovering” a school bus from a Baptist church and a hearse from a shady funeral home. Though she’s afraid of being hurt, Nick can’t deny that being with Frankie feels like “an astronaut’s first bout of weightlessness.” McMan creates a lovable cast comprising crooks with hearts of gold and endearing oddballs, including Nick’s wonderfully campy roommate and Frankie’s goth mortician sister. It’s lighthearted fare that relishes in its own ridiculousness, but McMan grounds the more outlandish flights of fancy in honesty and warmth. Readers are sure to be taken in by the quirky charms of this lesbian love story. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Dream Chaser

Kristen Ashley. Forever, $7.99 mass market (544p) ISBN 978-1-5387-3391-2

Fans of Ashley’s Denver-set romantic suspense novels filled with lawmen, bikers, PIs, and strippers, will be satisfied if not blown away by this solid second entry in her Dream Team series. Stripper Ryn Jansen dreams of being a house flipper, but regularly puts her aspirations on the back burner in order to financially support her niece and nephew. When security expert Boone Sadler—a “commando” Ryn knows through her colleague Evie, the protagonist of Dream Maker—learns that Ryn’s sister-in-law uses Ryn’s monetary contributions for massages and retail therapy rather than food and field trips, it sets the stage for Ryn to re-evaluate her familial relationships. Simultaneously, the bad guy who kidnapped Ryn in the previous book tracks her down once more, pushing forward a series-serving plot about Boone and his team’s investigation of a crew of dirty cops. On top of the drama, Ashley devotes plenty of space to the light BDSM relationship that develops between Boone and Ryn, who don’t take long to settle into domestic bliss. It’s a lot to juggle and at times the story feels overcrowded, but series fans will be pleased to return to this high-octane world and check in with familiar faces. Agent: Emily Sylvan Kim, Prospect Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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