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The Wedding Night Affair

L.C. Sharp. Carina, $4.99 e-book (368p) ASIN B08K3GGSZD

Light on romance but simmering with suspense, Sharp’s debut and Ash and Juliana series launch kicks off when a new bride is accused of murdering her husband in 1748 London. Juliana, Lady Godfrey Uppingham, wakes the morning after her painful wedding night to discover that her vile new husband has been stabbed to death. Though she is the prime suspect in the murder, she protests that all she remembers of the night before is enduring rough, abusive sex and falling asleep. Juliana finds a champion in Sir Edmund “Ash” Ashendon, the lawyer who questions her on behalf of the local magistrate and takes her to his home where she remains under house arrest pending trial. Ash agrees to represent Juliana, and sets to work proving her innocence. As the body count rises, the danger to Juliana becomes more apparent and Ash’s determination to protect her only grows. His investigation leads him to uncover Juliana’s deceased husband’s sinister business alliances and to suspect the elusive Raven, a Robin Hood–like outlaw, may be connected to the murders. Sharp effortlessly combines mystery, politics, and a tantalizing first blush of romance into one fast-paced package. Readers will eagerly await the next installment. (May)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Playing the Palace

Paul Rudnick. Berkley, $16 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-09941-4

The latest camp riff from Rudnick (It’s All Your Fault) picks up the royal romance tropes laid down by Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue and turns them into pegs upon which to hang the fluffiest of narrative shtick. New York City event planner Carter Ogden meets and falls for Edgar, the crown prince of Britain, at an event—but despite this high concept premise, the story is light on both romance and politics. In fact, there’s little plot at all. Narrator Carter is less a romantic hero than a stand-up comedian who moves from an IHOP on 14th Street to the United Nations to Buckingham Palace as scenario after scenario is sketched to showcase his self-absorbed, neurotic, and, yes, funny extended monologue about being gay, Jewish, and lovelorn. The improbable love interest, Edgar, is an earnest and well-executed foil for Carter’s hyperbolic breathlessness. But a wedding at the end doth not a romance make, and readers will enjoy the performance much more if they frame their expectations in terms of an updated Seinfeld script. Readers may not swoon, but they’re sure to laugh out loud. Agent: David Kuhn, Aevitis Creative Management. (May)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Disaster Girl

Michelle Dayton. Tule, $4.99 e-book (342p) ASIN B08VRQP5XP

With this addictive contemporary, Dayton (Quick Fall) balances a deeply satisfying romance with real stakes and a realistic look at caregiver burnout. Computer security expert Tess Greene is well prepared to protect her clients from crises—but in her personal life, Tess feels like a disaster herself. She spent years caring for her younger sister and severely depressed mother before falling into a safe but stifling relationship that she blew up on what would have been her wedding day. Now, she’s distanced herself from her mother and avoids relationships altogether, comfortable in her persona as a “boozy amazon.” When a former one night stand threatens to post a video of his rendezvous with Tess online, Tess recruits hacker Max Hampshire to stop him. Max is hoping for steadier, less illegal work, so in exchange for helping Tess, he asks for her assistance landing a job at her firm. Their ensuing romance is sweet and convincing, and while Tess must learn to be emotionally vulnerable, it’s refreshing that she doesn’t have to sacrifice anything for her relationship with Max. Tess’s career goals and familial relationships are just as important to the story as the romance, making for a fully developed heroine who’s easy to root for. Readers won’t want to put this down. Agent: Janna Bonikowski, the Knight Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Out of Character

Annabeth Albert. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $14.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-72822-603-3

Closeted college dropout Milo Lionetti embarks on a journey of forgiveness, redemption, and self-discovery in Albert’s cute second True Colors romance (after Conventionally Yours). After jock Milo gambles away his brother’s ultra-rare trading cards for the fictional game Odyssey without realizing how valuable they are, he begs his estranged childhood best friend, nerdy Jasper Quigley, for help finding replacements. Jasper, who’s still hurt by the way Milo pulled away from their friendship after Jasper came out as gay in high school, reluctantly agrees only if Milo fills a vacant role in Jasper’s cosplay group during their charity work at the local children’s hospital. The drawn out hunt for the cards brings the pair to an Odyssey tournament, where Milo emotionally comes out as gay after he and Jasper kiss for the first time. As they spend more time together, Jasper must decide if he’s ready to forgive Milo’s past mistakes, and Milo must find the courage to move into a more authentic future as an openly gay artist. Milo’s arc is far more nuanced and developed than that of Jasper, whose characterization is somewhat bland, but the slice-of-life plot and sweet, supportive romance that develops between them will have broad appeal. This is sure to please. Agent: Deidre Knight, the Knight Agency (July)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Dating Dare

Jayci Lee. Griffin, $16.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-62112-2

Lee dishes up a half-baked rom-com grounded appealingly in cultural specificity but littered with tired romance clichés—including treating jealousy and leering as signs of true love. At the wedding of the couple from Lee’s A Sweet Mess, sparks fly between craft brewery owner Tara Park and the groom’s younger brother, photographer Seth Kim. But Seth is moving to Paris soon, so despite their killer chemistry, he doesn’t want to commit. And that suits attachment-avoidant Tara just fine. So when, during a drunken game of truth or dare, Seth challenges Tara to go on four dates with him without falling in love, both think it should be easy. Readers are told that Seth and Tara are kindred spirits, but their connection is never convincingly shown, thanks to uneven pacing and constant interruptions on their dates. An early scene where Seth becomes aroused by a blackout-drunk Tara taking off her clothes may not sit well with readers; the narration hurries to assure them that Seth would never take advantage of Tara, but for many that will be setting the bar too low. Lee’s devoted fans will enjoy her signature fluffy approach, but other rom-com readers can skip this one. Agent: Sarah Younger, Nancy Yost Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Ink and Ice

Erin McRae and Racheline Maltese. Avian30, $3.99 e-book (278p) ISBN 978-1-393-80256-3

An Olympic hopeful and the reporter assigned to cover him navigate a rocky relationship in the pleasing second Twin Cities Ice romance from McRae and Maltese (following After the Gold). Twenty-three-year-old figure skater Aaron Sheftall rushes to Minnesota for preseason training after a top-ranked U.S. skater suffers a career-ending injury, opening up the field. Zack Kelly, an award-winning war-zone reporter coping with a recent divorce, receives a call from his editor asking him to write a story about Aaron and the other front-runner for the spot on the U.S. national team. Though he’s unfamiliar with the sport, Zack agrees—and he’s immediately attracted to Aaron. The men grow closer, with Aaron teaching Zack to skate and Zack introducing Aaron to the pleasures of bondage. But Zack’s worried that he’ll be a distraction during Aaron’s competitions and deflates Aaron’s elation following a risky performance by ending their relationship. Now Aaron faces the intense qualifying competitions alone while Zack struggles to build a new life in the Twin Cities. But can they really stay apart? The friction between Aaron’s bubbly, open style and Zack’s outwardly brusque but sensitive personality buoys the plot along through these ups and downs. The result is a solid if not particularly memorable romance. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Heiress in Red Silk

Madeline Hunter. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4999-9

Hunter’s second A Duke’s Heiress Regency romance is sure to satisfy fans who fell for Heiress for Hire’s thoughtful love story and clever leads. Struggling milliner Rosamund Jameson’s life is upended when she learns she is the second surprise beneficiary of the late, eccentric Duke of Hollinburgh. In addition to a fortune, Rosamund inherits the duke’s 50% stake in his nephew Kevin Radnor’s fledgling manufacturing company. Kevin, fiercely protective of his vision and accustomed to working alone, is unprepared for his lovely new business partner to play an active role in the company’s future. A practical marriage to Rosamund could be the ideal solution for Kevin to ensure control of his enterprise, but a shared attraction and growing attachment threaten this convenient plan. Hunter skillfully renders the difficult conversations and compromises that are the stuff of real-life romance, showing Kevin and Rosamund learning to make decisions together both as lovers and business partners. Lively scenes featuring Kevin’s awful family, as well as a fun, steamy business trip to Paris, balance out the discussions of contracts nicely. The ongoing mystery of the first installment is mostly tabled, but readers open to the lighter premise here will be rewarded with another smart pairing and a genuinely romantic ending. Agent: Pamela Hopkins, Hopkins Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Marriage He Demands

Brenda Jackson. Harlequin Desire, $5.25 mass market (224p) ISBN 978-1-335-23282-3

Jackson pairs a businessman and a small-town rancher in her steamy but predictable second Westmoreland Legacy: The Outlaws romance (after The Wife He Needs). After Cash Outlaw’s mother dies, he inherits the portion of her Black Crow, Wyo., land encompassing Blazing Frontier Dude Ranch. The remaining 50 acres and foreman’s home go to her former caretaker, the alluring Brianna Banks. Cash initially plans to sell the property, but Brianna convinces him to visit first, and the other Outlaw siblings agree to invest should Cash reopen the ranch. But when Cash decides to stay, he discovers he’ll need access to Brianna’s 50 acres in order to make the dude ranch work. The pair come up with an unorthodox agreement: Brianna wants a baby and, after a sour experience with a sperm bank, offers to give Cash the land if he acts as her sperm donor. But Cash wants to be a part of the child’s life and agrees only if they get married. Jackson handles familiar tropes well, but leaves the story somewhat lacking by relying on physical attraction, rather than emotional connection, to drive the plot forward. Still, the explosive chemistry will be enough to please many romance fans. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Lowcountry Bride

Preslaysa Williams. Avon, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-304029-8

A struggling bridal shop owner finds love with a wedding dress designer in this inspiring romantic romp from Williams (Healing Hannah’s Heart). Maya Jackson returns to Charleston, S.C., to help her father recover from a broken hip. On unpaid leave from her N.Y.C. bridal gown brand, she accepts a temporary job at a bridal shop while she’s there. Derek Sullivan’s wife died in a mass shooting three years ago, and now he’s working to save the shop he inherited from his mother and reconnect with his 12-year-old daughter, Jamila. Maya’s experience and eye for style breathes new life into Derek’s almost-bankrupt business, and her presence gives Derek and Jamila hope for a brighter future. Meanwhile, Maya gets a chance to showcase her designs, which have always been rejected by her famous boss. But as Maya, who has sickle cell anemia, grows close to Derek and Jamila, she worries her prognosis will be too much for them to handle. Maya’s determination is admirable as she manages her illness and works for the happy ending she deserves. With this heartwarming tale, Williams has created a budding family that readers will root for. (June)

Reviewed on 03/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Noble and the Nightingale

Barbara Ann Wright. Bold Strokes, $19.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-63555-812-8

Wright (Lady of Stone) sets up the Sisters of Sarras lesbian fantasy romance trilogy with solid worldbuilding, a delightfully awkward couple who bridge social realms, and an entertaining adventure that leaves plenty of room to grow. Adella del Amanecer spends her energy working as the secondary ambassador from Sarras to the Firellian Empire and maintaining her noble family’s financially strapped household with her two sisters—but she still finds time to flirt with mandolin-playing bard Bridget Leir, unaware that Bridget used to be a Firellian spy. Bridget intends to come clean to Adella, but before she can, a murder in the diplomats’ office makes Adella both investigator and potential target, with law-keeping Sentinels and spy hunters on the case. Now Bridget must balance using her skills and connections to help the woman she loves with keeping her own secret. Centering personal attachment rather than eroticism, this is perfect for those who prefer their romances emotional but not explicit. By the end, Wright has established strong personalities for Adella’s two sisters and taken the suspense plotline to the brink of war between Sarras and the Firellians, setting up strongly for the next volumes. Readers will be pleased. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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