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Tack & Jibe

Lilah Suzanne. Interlude, $16.99 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-945053-93-1

This charming romance from Suzanne (the Spotlight series) explores the world of sailboat racing in the idyllic Outer Banks of North Carolina. At 22, Willa Rogers lives in her grandparents’ Porter Island beach cottage with her laid-back roommate, Bodhi, works at Bodhi’s moms’ sailing store, and allows her hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers to believe she’s an accomplished sailor even though that couldn’t be further from the truth. When a world-class regatta comes to town, everyone expects Willa to enter. Desperate, she seeks lessons from recently retired champion sailor Lane Cordova, who agrees to teach her if Willa will promote Lane’s real estate business on social media. Lane is 14 years Willa’s senior, prickly, and defensive—and Willa quickly falls in love. A series of misunderstandings lead both Willa and Lane to believe the other is involved with Bodhi, until they finally admit their feelings for each other. But Lane’s parents, who don’t know she’s interested in women, and a massive storm on the horizon may ruin their happily-ever-after. Suzanne has done their homework on sailing, and the flawed heroines are both honest and heartwarming. This light, beachy novella is a must-read for anyone who enjoys queer romance. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Home with You

Liza Kendall. Jove, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-09802-8

Kendall’s second Silverlake Ranch novel (after Walk Me Home) takes readers on a predictable but pleasant visit to Texas Hill Country. When teenage Rhett Braddock’s parents died, his older brother enrolled him in boarding school. Resentful of being sent away, Rhett, now a wildly successful banker, has refused to return to Silverlake, Tex. But when he learns that the Holts, a local family, are on the brink of financial ruin, he saves them from bankruptcy by buying their ranch. His arrival in town is awkward for Jules Holt, who, just weeks before, ran into Rhett in Dallas, where they shared a passionate evening together only for him to treat her like a one-night stand the following morning. She’s also peeved at her conservative family for never allowing her to run the ranch by herself. Inevitably, Jules’s anger cools as Rhett proves amenable to her input on the ranch. Readers are likely to guess the eventual twist and Jules’s old-fashioned family will put off some readers, but the central couple are sweet and compatible. Kendall sets herself up for a long run in Silverlake with a cast of young, single side characters hoping to find relationships of their own. Lovers of small-town romance will find this an agreeable option. Agent: Louise Fury, the Bent Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey

Abigail Wilson. Thomas Nelson, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7852-3307-7

Wilson (Midnight on the River Grey) weaves a splendid tale of murder and deception in this fun, suspenseful Regency. Lord Adrian Radcliffe Torrington, a spy for the crown, poses as a highwayman in hopes of retrieving an important document, but accidentally robs the wrong coach. The botched robbery results in a carriage accident that leaves the coach’s occupants, Elizabeth Cantrell and her infant son, unconscious. Adrian is forced to declare to rescuers that Elizabeth is his wife in order to maintain his cover. When Elizabeth awakens, she agrees to the deception in order to help Adrian complete his mission. She nervously travels with him to his home of Middlecrest Abbey as the new Lady Torrington, uncertain how their apparently clandestine marriage will be received. But maintaining their charade soon takes a backseat to solving a mystery when Adrian’s eldest daughter’s fiancé turns up murdered. The main couple are well matched in spunk and intellect, and Wilson strikes a nice balance between intrigue and gentle romance. This delightful story is sure to entertain. Agent: Jennifer Wills, the Seymore Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Wedding War

Liz Talley. Montlake, $12.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-5420-0974-4

Friends turned enemies are forced to reconcile when their children announce their engagement to each other in this heartwarming tale from Talley (the Morning Glory Series). Tennyson O’Rourke and Melanie Layton were best friends, until Melanie started dating Tennyson’s ex-boyfriend and Tennyson ruined their eventual wedding by spilling a secret about Melanie’s family. Now 20-some-odd years later, Tennyson’s son, Andrew, is marrying Melanie’s daughter, Emma, and the women are going to be reluctant in-laws. Arriving in Shreveport, La., for the ceremony, the women clash amid the wedding planning chaos. But their fights are the least of Melanie’s worries: her sister is ill, her marriage is crumbling, and she can’t escape the reach of her overbearing mother. The strife may just be enough to drive her to seek comfort from her oldest friend. The subplot about Melanie’s marriage ratchets up the tension as Tennyson’s romance with a police officer adds steam, but, wisely, Talley mostly keeps the focus on the relationship between her strong female protagonists. More women’s fiction than romance, this fast-moving story of friendship and forgiveness will appeal to fans of Jamie Beck. Agent: Michelle Grajkowski, 3 Seas Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Girl Gone Viral

Alisha Rai. Avon, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-287813-7

Rai (The Right Swipe) riffs on the viral Twitter #PlaneBae story in this gorgeous romance. Privacy-obsessed Katrina King, a former model turned angel investor, copes with her social anxiety and the specter of her abusive father with the ample support of her female friends and sexy bodyguard Jasvinder “Jas” Singh. Former soldier Jas, meanwhile, is nursing an impossible crush on Katrina and struggling with PTSD. When a stranger approaches Katrina in a café, she flirts with him but says no when he asks her out. Unbeknown to either of them, an eavesdropper livetweets their entire exchange, along with surreptitious photos, and “#cafebae” quickly goes viral. To escape the social media frenzy, Jas suggests that he and Katrina retreat to his family’s remote farm in Northern California until it blows over. There, their true feelings bubble up. Rae handles her characters’ mental health issues with incredible care while not shying away from depicting the effects such issues would have on a relationship. Katrina and Jas’s loving, mutual support of one another is truly touching. This sensitive and sexy contemporary is sure to be a hit. Agent: Steve Axelrod, Axelrod Agency (May)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Best Bondage Erotica of the Year, Volume 1

Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. Cleis, $18.95 Trade Paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-62778-291-3

Bussel (editor, Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volumes 1-5) arranges a celebration of bondage in all its forms in this wide-ranging, inclusive anthology. The work is bookended by a pair of standout tales: Ria Restrepo’s “Chained” welcomes readers with a charming protagonist exploring her fantasies for the first time, and Tiffany Reisz’s “The Beguiling of Merlin: An Erotic Fantasia” leaves a lasting impression with its sexy, creative premise. The 18 stories in between are admirably eclectic but uneven. Lazuli Jones offers unexpected sweetness in a futuristic sex club in “Connection,” while Angora Shade’s “Protocol” uses its spaceship setting for zero-gravity sexcapades between unconvincing characters. Many of the authors attempt to weave education about kink into their tales in ways that run from seamless to intrusive. Bussel is the worst offender, with the narrator of her “Necessary Roughness” spending more time explaining the pleasures of his marriage than actually experiencing them. Luckily, the breadth of tone and trope is wide enough that the weaker entries cannot mar the whole. With characters of all ages, genders, and sexualities represented, the diversity of this anthology ensures that any reader with even a glancing interest in bondage will find something that piques. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Can’t Hurry Love

Melinda Curtis. Forever, $7.99 mass market (512p) ISBN 978-1-5387-3341-7

The quirky members of the Sunshine Valley Widows Club play matchmaker in this leisurely paced and entertaining series debut from Curtis (Dandelion Wishes). Lola Williams left her career as a makeup artist to move with her new husband, Randy, to his Colorado hometown. Lola struggles to break into the tight-knit community, which only gets harder after Randy’s sudden death. Cleaning out his things, Lola discovers evidence that Randy was having multiple affairs, sending her on a quest to uncover the women’s identities as the town’s Widows Club, a support group for women who’ve lost their husbands, rallies around her. Sheriff Drew Taylor finds Lola’s impulsive antics endearing (burning Randy’s underwear in a bonfire, setting up his blow-up dolls in his former shop windows) but believes he has no room for her chaos in his life. Drew’s ex-wife, who abandoned him and their six-year-old daughter, is moving back to town, and he’s convinced he needs a stable woman to counterbalance his ex’s influence on his daughter. Drew’s slow realization of his love for Lola, nudged along by the Widows Club, sweetly parallels the townsfolk’s gradual embrace of her as part of their community. Readers who enjoy relaxed stories of acceptance will be gratified. The edition includes a bonus story by Annie Rains. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Lessons in Enchantment

Patricia Rice. Book View Cafe, $15.99 trade paper (278p) ISBN 978-1-61138-869-5

Rice (Moonstone Shadows) transports readers to Victorian-era Scotland with the appealing but occasionally clunky fantasy romance that opens her School of Magic series. Born into the lower class, engineer-turned-businessman Drew Blair has worked hard to accumulate enough wealth and stability to pursue his passion as an inventor. When Drew’s cousin dies, Drew takes in her magically gifted children and must secure their safety and schooling. Lady Phoebe Malcolm Duncan dreams of using her gift for animal telepathy as a veterinarian, but without money for university tuition, she reluctantly accepts a position as a governess in the Blair household. Phoebe and Drew work together to care for the gifted children, and along the way they discover a mutual attraction. Rice does a good job fleshing out her protagonists, imbuing them with convincing motivations and worthy ambitions outside of the central romance. Less successful are the eventual love scenes, which feature awkward sexual descriptors (“His visceral growl trembled her womb”)and overly aggressive behavior from Drew, which will turn off some readers. Still, those swept away by the atmosphere and magic may be able to overlook these missteps. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Wind River Undercover

Lindsay McKenna. Zebra, $7.99 mass market (314p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4754-4

Romance blooms amid danger in McKenna’s ninth Wind River Valley romance (after Wind River Protector). Anna Navaro, a Guatemalan sniper working with the U.S. DEA, goes undercover with agent Gabe Whitcomb near Wind River Valley, Wyo., to track the Elson brothers, suspected agents of the Gonzalez drug cartel. With Gabe posing as a ranch owner and Anna as his wrangler, the pair bond as they surveil the Elson gang. Gabe admires Anna’s resilience and tenacity, and Anna is just as taken with Gabe’s honesty. When their cover is blown, they’re forced to run, and the high-stakes situation leads them to confess their mutual attraction. The chemistry between the two is electric and convincing, amplified by the tension of their undercover assignment, but Anna’s fraught, inconsistent backstory adds unnecessary confusion to an otherwise fast-paced and well-crafted plot. Lovers of action-packed romantic suspense will delight in this intense tale. Agent: Claire Gerus Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Hard Ride

A.M. Arthur. Carina, $8.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-335-45948-0

Scintillating romantic tension and steamy sex scenes redeem the jumbled contrivances that lead the heroes of Arthur’s fifth Clean Slate Ranch cowboy romance (after Lucky Break) to pretend to date. Derrick Massey’s sister-in-law goes into labor while the Massey family is visiting the ranch for a wedding. While anxiously awaiting news from the hospital, Derrick hooks up with ranch hand Slater Stamos. They agree it’s a one-off, but three weeks later Slater breaks his ankle saving a child from falling off a cliff, and Derrick unexpectedly visits him in the hospital. Derrick offers Slater the chance to recuperate in the comfort of his San Francisco Bay Area apartment if Slater will pretend to be his boyfriend at five upcoming weddings, hoping to convince his relatives that he’s settled down. The tale hits its stride once Slater agrees and opens up to Derrick about his time in prison and the child he fathered at 17, but the lead-up to their arrangement is unnecessarily convoluted. In a quirky subplot, Slater befriends Derrick’s nonbinary neighbor, Dez, who teaches him the art of profane needlecraft to occupy his hands during his convalescence. Cameos by characters from previous installments will please fans, but confuse newcomers. This passionate, trope-heavy romance is entertaining but uneven. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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