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A Healing Touch

Suzanne Woods Fisher. Revell, $17.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-80074-528-8

Fisher (Love on a Whim) centers this poignant contemporary Amish romance on Ruth “Dok” Stoltzfus, a doctor in her late 50s who treats the Englisch and Amish of Stoney Ridge, Pa. Ever since leaving the Amish community she was raised in for college and medical school, Dok has wanted to go the extra mile for her patients, but the long hours she spends at her practice grate on her husband, Matt. Their life gets even more hectic when a newborn—who turns out to be the son of Matt’s drug-addicted cousin—is left on their doorstep. Matt convinces a reluctant Dok to temporarily take in the baby, and to her surprise she slowly realizes how much joy the child brings them, as she begins to envision a future that she doubted she would ever have. Dok’s story line is intertwined with those of her Amish assistant, Annie, whom Dok encourages to become an EMT, and her patient Bee Bennett, who remakes her life following a breast cancer diagnosis. The author perceptively sketches her characters’ emotional arcs as life’s challenges yield unexpected gifts, speaking to the power of second chances, faith, and love. Readers will eagerly await Fisher’s next trip to Lancaster County. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Fiancé Dilemma

Elena Armas. Atria, $19.99 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-1-66801-134-8

Bestseller Armas (The Long Game) charms with this masterful take on the fake engagement trope. Josie Moore, 29, is known in Green Oak, N.C., as a runaway bride after walking out on four weddings. This poses a PR problem for her estranged father, Andrew Underwood, a powerful businessman who reenters her life on the eve of a magazine cover story about his successes. A daughter he abandoned whose daddy issues have kept her from finding true love won’t play well with the general public, so Andrew’s PR team suggests he salvage his image by paying for Josie’s next wedding, one he expects her to actually go through with. It’s a sweet gesture, but there’s one problem: Josie’s not currently engaged. Enter Matthew Flanagan, who has just been fired from his job with a popular gossip rag when he decides to seek out Josie, the woman his best friend Adalyn believes is his soulmate. He’s willing to fake a relationship if it means getting to know her better—and soon their blistering chemistry has them questioning whether they should try for a real relationship. Josie’s insecurities are entirely plausible, while Matthew is the perfect romantic hero—supportive, sexy, and determined to make Josie feel loved. Snappy prose and steamy love scenes make this a winner. (July)

Reviewed on 07/05/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Karaoke Queen

Dominic Lim. Forever, $17.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-2540-5

Comedy and father-son conflict intersect in Lim’s vivacious second novel (after All the Right Notes), a joyous celebration of drag, karaoke, and Filipino culture. Filipino American Rex Araneta has locked away his love for drag performance, karaoke, and women’s fashion because of his father’s disapproval and a traumatic past experience. Then Rex reconnects by chance with his white college boyfriend, Aaron Berry, the new manager of the Pink Unicorn, a historic Bay Area gay bar in financial peril. Hoping that saving the bar will win back Aaron’s affection, Rex revives his once viral drag queen persona, Regina Moon Dee, and offers to emcee karaoke night to bring in customers. But when Rex, who’s already insecure that no one could love both Rex and Regina, learns Aaron doesn’t like drag or respect it as an art form, he’s determined to keep Aaron from discovering that he’s Regina. To maintain his cover, Rex ropes in the Pink Unicorn’s cute, Filipino karaoke jockey, Paolo. Their elaborate web of deception gives way to a series of slapstick mishaps, especially when Rex teaches Paolo to impersonate Regina, but also tender moments arising when Rex least expects them. The result is a hilarious yet fervent tribute to the places and people that make being one’s authentic self possible. Agent: Gina Panettieri, Talcott Notch Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Lovers

Rebekah Faubion. Berkley, $19 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-64086-9

Faubion’s funny if shallow debut comes across like a sitcom episode, delivering a few good laughs but nothing that will linger long in readers’ minds. The protagonists are tarot reader Kit “Mystic Maven” Larson and event planner Julia Kelley, both terminally online 20-somethings working on the same destination wedding in Joshua Tree National Park. Of the two, Julia’s got it worse. Not only is Kit the girl who broke her heart in high school, but she has another ex among the bridesmaids, who’s circling for a second bite. Despite the heroines being characterized very differently—woo-woo aesthete versus type-A entrepreneur—Kit and Julia both narrate in voices that are essentially identical, particularly in their preoccupation with 1990s cultural references older than they are. This sameness, combined with Kit’s relentless commitment to the bit of wanting to be a rom-com ingenue, render it difficult to accept the artifice and engage with the romance on a deeper level. Still, readers in the mood for a quirky bit of fluff will find this entertaining enough. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Perfectly Wicked

Lindsay Lovise. Alcove, $29.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-63910-953-1

In this cozy, magical love story, Lovise (Never Blow a Kiss) balances romance and spookiness. For generations, the women of the Celeste family have run Wicked Good Apples, producing amazing cider from their private orchard in Maine without ever revealing that much of their success hinges upon their hidden magical abilities. But for the past few years, business has been dropping, partly because of their low profile and partly because of the ghost supposedly haunting the orchard. In a last-ditch effort to avoid selling the business, Holly Celeste reluctantly allows Connor Grimm, host of the ghost-hunting reality show Grimm Reality, to film an episode about the orchard. Now Holly has to keep Connor from learning the truth about her family’s witchy history and fantastic abilities. Together, they slowly unravel the tragedy behind the orchard’s beginnings, even as they fall for each other. But Holly will never abandon her family business, and Connor is bound to leave for another job soon. Will their relationship survive? Holly and Connor’s chemistry is undeniable and the supernatural elements, while initially subtle, ramp up deliciously as the story goes on. Colorful supporting characters—including the rest of the Celeste family—bring the setting to life. This is perfect for an autumn night. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2024 | Details & Permalink

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A Fire in the Sky

Sophie Jordan. Avon, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-339999-0

Jordan revisits the world of her Firelight YA series (begun in 2010’s Firelight) with a seductive adult prequel set 100 years after the Threshing that essentially eliminated dragons from the world. Tamsyn, who heals remarkably and mysteriously quickly, is raised as a sister of the princesses of Penterra, but used as their whipping girl. When the terrifying Fell, the Beast of the Borderlands, demands one of the princesses as a bride in exchange for his continued protection of the kingdom’s northern border, the royal family deceive him by sending Tamsyn instead. Though furious about the trickery, Fell finds himself surprisingly both protective and fond of his new wife, while she discovers the dangerous, wild magic that exists beyond the walls of the castle—and maybe also within herself. Jordan’s protagonists fit nicely into outsider tropes—Fell as the violent warrior with a righteous heart, Tamsyn as the pampered fish out of water who finds her inner strength—while also exhibiting complexity beyond the stereotypes. Jordan keeps the politics and the action simple to instead center the love story and Tamsyn’s self-discovery, leaving the novel with something of a YA feel despite the notably adult sex scenes. The final reveal, meanwhile, will keep readers on the hook for future installments. Fans who grew up with the original series are sure to be delighted. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Counting Miracles

Nicholas Sparks. Random House, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-44959-2

Bestseller Sparks (The Longest Ride) brings all the emotion fans expect in his heart-tugging latest. Tanner Hughes was raised by his grandparents after his single mother’s death and has spent his adult life serving first as an Army Ranger, then in Cameroon with the U.S. Agency for International Development. He has no interest in slowing or settling down—but after his grandmother, on her deathbed, reveals the name of his biological father, he heads to that man’s last known location: Asheboro, N.C. He intends for it to be a quick stop on his itinerary before returning to Cameroon, but Tanner doesn’t figure on meeting—and falling for—divorced physician Kaitlyn Cooper. The pair are thrown together after Kaitlyn’s teenage daughter, Casey, accidentally crashes into Tanner’s car, and the adults immediately form an emotional bond. Kaitlyn, who has never left Asheboro, starts to dream of happily-ever-after, but will Tanner’s restless feet doom their relationship before it can begin? Sparks enriches Kaitlyn and Tanner’s love story with a striking supporting cast, especially Kaitlyn’s kids, Casey and Mitch, and an elderly neighbor named Jasper. The mystery of Tanner’s parentage finally unravels at the story’s end, delivering an emotionally satisfying finale. This is sure to be another hit for Sparks. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2024 | Details & Permalink

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I’ll Get Back to You

Becca Grischow. Penguin Books, $19 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-14-313841-9

Grischow’s debut is as self-assured and charming as her protagonist desperately wishes she herself were. Three years into a marketing degree and Murphy can’t catch a break. Her best friend Kat has transferred from their community college to the University of Illinois, while Murphy is stuck in their little hometown and her parents’ house until she can pass accounting and make the same move. Then Kat comes back for Thanksgiving with a boyfriend and a life that doesn’t seem to have space for Murphy in it anymore. While feeling hurt and abandoned, Murphy meets funny, artsy, super-attractive Ellie, who’s also back home for Thanksgiving and reeling from a recent breakup. The pair bond over a night of sharing their woes, after which Murphy realizes that Ellie’s mother is her accounting professor, who notoriously goes easy on her favorites. So they make a deal: Murphy will pretend to be Ellie’s girlfriend, since Ellie didn’t have the courage to tell her parents she was dumped. They’ll use the ruse to talk Ellie’s parents into letting her attend the grad school program of her dreams and to get Murphy enough good graces for a passing grade. But only pretending to love Ellie turns out to be much harder than it looks. Grischow’s take on fake dating is compulsively readable, funny, and full of heart. Readers will fall for this as fast as Murphy falls for Ellie. Agent: Dana Murphy, Trellis Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Seemingly Impossible Love Life of Amanda Dean

Ann Rose. Berkley, $19 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-81595-3

As bisexual painter Amanda “Mandy” Dean’s wedding approaches, disaster after disaster looms in the poignant adult debut from YA author Rose (Breakout). Mandy’s life unfolds in a series of flashbacks that break up the frantic wedding prep, each focusing on her relationship struggles from junior high through adulthood and leaving readers guessing who will be awaiting her at the altar. There’s Brandon, with his dimples and fickle heart; V, with her artistic soul and tendency to cheat; and the single-mindedly focused Edmund. Through all the romantic turmoil, the one constant is Isa, Mandy’s best friend since kindergarten. The pair weather it all together, including family conflicts and broken hearts. Readers are treated to an intimate, vulnerable portrait of a complicated woman who is trying to apply all she’s learned into building a life with someone. The joys of living are laid bare alongside such challenges as coming to recognize that one’s parents are imperfect and fallible. The result is equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming. Agent: Eva Scalzo, Speilburg Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Memo

Rachel Dodes and Lauren Mechling. Harper Perennial, $17.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-331935-6

Debut author Dodes and Mechling (How Could She) spin a fanciful and moving Sliding Doors–esque tale. Jenny Green, 35, is overworked and underappreciated by her narcissistic boss, Alice, and suspects that her boyfriend, Hal, is cheating on her. Meanwhile, her best friends Geeta and Leigh seem to have their lives together, and Jenny starts to wonder if the successful women around her all got the same memo that she missed. Color her surprised when a woman from her past, college career counselor Desiree LeBlanc, reappears in her life to deliver just that. The memo turns out to be a set of instructions for reliving life’s turning points, and making different decisions. Using it, Jenny rewrites her life. Now she’s dating Alex, the wealthy, art-collecting lawyer with whom she previously missed her chance at connection, and running her own vegan meal-delivery service. But alternative choices have unexpected consequences and in changing her history, Jenny may inadvertently impact the life of someone she cares for deeply. The authors make it easy to suspend disbelief by keeping the focus squarely on Jenny’s emotional journey, and they expertly capture her fear and ambivalence in the face of risky life decisions. This well-told tale will leave readers wanting more. (June)

Reviewed on 06/28/2024 | Details & Permalink

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