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Twilight at Moorington Cross

Abigail Wilson. Thomas Nelson, $16.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7852-5327-3

The shadowy halls of the Cluett Mesmeric Hospital serve as the backdrop for both a twisty murder mystery and the sweet romance between a patient and her solicitor in this suspenseful Regency romance from Wilson (The Vanishing at Loxby Manor). Widow Amelia Pembroke, who’s being treated for a sleep disorder, is flabbergasted to learn that her doctor has added her to his will, promising to bequeath her a large portion of his estate, contingent on her marrying one of the two men he’s selected. Solicitor Ewan Hawkins agrees to assist Amelia in choosing between her suitors. Neither understands why Dr. Cluett attached such a stipulation, knowing Amelia’s aversion to remarrying—and Cluett takes his reasons to the grave when he turns up murdered. While Amelia and Ewan investigate his death, they form a powerful attachment. But Amelia needs the funds from Cluett’s estate to help her fellow patients, leaving the unapproved couple in a precarious situation. The Mesmeric Hospital is full of suspects, hidden passageways, and secret drawers, and Wilson pulls off even the most outrageous twists with aplomb. Meanwhile, though the romance stays chaste, the couple’s chemistry is off the charts. This page-turner will have readers on the edge of their seats. Agent: Jennifer Wills, Seymour Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Delilah Green Doesn’t Care

Ashley Herring Blake. Berkley, $16 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-33640-3

Blake (Girl Made of Stars) makes her adult debut with a broad queer rom-com. Stepsisters Astrid Parker and Delilah Green shared a household for a decade and resented every minute of it. Now Delilah’s an artist hustling in New York, but she comes home to Oregon when her stepmother promises to pay her $15,000 to be Astrid’s wedding photographer. Astrid still runs with her high school crew, Claire and Iris, whom Delilah thinks of as mean girls. That’s accurate, but Claire and Iris both loathe Astrid’s fiancé and they’re willing to make an unholy alliance with devil-may-care Delilah if it will rescue Astrid from the match. Meanwhile, Delilah has a not-quite-bet with Astrid that Delilah will wrangle shy Claire, her former high school crush, into bed. The resulting escapades are mostly alcohol-fueled pratfalls laced with bitterness. It’s Sex in the City with a Breakfast Club edge as four women with old grudges manipulate one another through the two-week run-up to Astrid’s wedding. The result is heavier on slapstick humor than feelings and will appeal more to chick lit fans than romance aficionados. Agent: Rebecca Podos, Rees Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Winter’s Earl

Annabelle Greene. Carina, $4.99 e-book (336p) ISBN 978-0-369-71749-8

Greene (Soldier and the Spy) takes a cue from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale for this middling historical romance. In 1815 Sicily, Richard Ashbrook receives a missive from his former lover, Sherborne Clarke, a scandalous British poet whom he believes published a letter outing Richard to a newspaper 16 years ago, forcing Richard into exile. Sherborne has found a baby on his doorstep and hopes Richard will help transport the foundling, whom he names Parsley, to the orphanage Richard’s cousin runs in London. Richard is bitter and wary about reuniting with Sherborne but cannot deny his lingering attraction: the pair get turned on while verbally sparring and engage in a fencing match that ends in kissing. When heavy snow delays their trip to the orphanage, Richard appreciates the chance for “one more night” with his lover. Unfortunately, this central romance feels rather tame and tensionless, and an episode in which actors and a bear arrive unexpectedly works as a nod to Shakespeare but is otherwise slack. A late subplot around Parsley’s parentage addresses issues of class, gender, and expectation and creates some intrigue, but not enough to save the story. Greene has made a noble effort, but this feels uninspired. Agent: Deidre Knight, the Knight Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Letter to Three Witches

Elizabeth Bass. Kensington, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-4967-3432-7

Bass (Life Is Sweet) delivers an enchanting paranormal rom-com replete with laugh-out-loud banter. The Engel cousins are forbidden to practice magic, as punishment for the actions of their great-great-grandfather, whose magic accidentally caused the Dust Bowl. But Tannith—the troublemaker of the “cousin coven,” which also includes Gwen, Milo, and Trudy—leaves magical mayhem in her wake when she dramatically departs the cousins’ hometown of Zenobia, N.Y., leaving behind a letter informing the trio that she’s placed a love spell on one of their significant others, who’ll soon be joining her in New York City. Trudy, whose marriage to her husband, Laird, is crumbling, realizes she has a penchant for accidental enchantments. Milo’s been “dabbling” in spellwork ever since meeting his mayoral candidate boyfriend, Brett. And while Gwen works through insecurities after moving in with her boyfriend, Daniel, she discovers a powerful magical strength. But their illegal spellcasting may incur the wrath of the Grand Council of Witches. Tannith makes for a flat antagonist—the quintessential wicked witch—but as the tale takes on an almost episodic form, moving between quirky blunders, it achieves sitcom-level humor that will have readers cackling. The ending feels a bit tidy, but it’s a charming ride to get there. Fans of Practical Magic will be delighted. Agent: Meg Ruley, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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What Might Have Been

Holly Miller.. Putnam, $16 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-08561-5

Questions of fate and whether anything is "meant to be" wind through Miller's tear-jerking latest (after The Sight of You), the events and tone of which range from sweetly charming to painfully emotional, even melodramatic. After eight years in the same unsatisfying position, Lucy Lambert quits her job and reaches a crossroads: stay in Shoreley, her coastal hometown, or move to London. The story splits to follow her down both paths, each with its own romantic and professional trajectory, alternating nimbly between the two to demonstrate the ramifications of choices large and small. Lucy has always been enchanted by the story of her parents' improbable whirlwind romance, from which she's derived an ardent belief in soulmates; but as the next few years play out, readers see how malleable destiny can be. Miller gracefully intertwines an impressive number of threads across the two paths, though the illustrations of small decisions leading to larger consequences can be heavy-handed, leading the story to occasionally feel emotionally manipulative. Still, Miller addresses intense, complicated issues with a sure hand and skillfully sustains the Sliding Doors conceit. Readers will be captivated throughout. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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How to Survive a Modern-Day Fairy Tale

Elle Cruz.. Entangled Amara, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-64937-081-5

Cruz debuts with a sweet modern-day Cinderella story that pairs an adorably nerdy cookie entrepreneur and a driven tech mogul. Claire Ventura and billionaire Nate Noruta meet cute when Claire nearly hits Nate-whom she does not recognize­-with her car in Long Beach, Calif. When she later dines at Nate's new restaurant, the coincidental encounter sparks a red-hot romance. Nate is all in from the start, while Claire's insecurities and tendency to run away threaten to end the relationship as quickly as it began. It's a dynamic that grows frustrating; readers will want to shake Claire as she consistently refuses to accept the love of a hero who's almost too perfect to believe. Still, Cruz's multifaceted characters force readers to care about them from the first page, and Claire and Nate's second date-which kicks off with a private flight to Paris-is positively swoon-worthy. Meanwhile, the supporting cast-particularly Claire's grandmother, work bestie, Todd, and outrageous sister, Ro-add depth and color. It's a bumpy ride, but there's plenty to make it worthwhile. Agent: Naomi Davis, Bookends Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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King of Battle and Blood

Scarlett St. Clair. Bloom, $16.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-72825-841-6

St. Clair (When Stars Come Out) breathes new life into an old trope as a princess and a vampire king wed to end a yearslong war in this outstanding series opener. Eager to avoid more bloodshed, King Henri de Lara forms a truce with the Blood King, Adrian Aleksandr Vasiliev. Adrian agrees to peace, but he wants to take Isolde, Henri’s daughter, as his wife and future queen of Revekka, the Empire of the Vampire. Isolde reluctantly accepts, hoping to save her people. It helps that a quick encounter between Isolde and Adrian before the wedding sparked a palpable sexual tension between the born enemies. In the face of this intense chemistry, Isolde questions both her sanity and her loyalty to her homeland. Despite animosity from the townspeople who oppose their union, the sexual tension between the unlikely newlyweds only mounts, and readers are treated to a deliciously slow-building romance as Adrian and Isolde discover an evil power and work together to defeat a common enemy. St. Clair has a masterful hand with the couple’s slow burn, balancing banter, contention, and highly charged moments. Readers will be chomping at the bit for the next installment. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Lucky Leap Day

Ann Marie Walker. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $14.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-72821-652-2

Walker (Happy Singles Day) transports readers to Dublin in this uproarious romantic comedy about accidental newlyweds attempting to divorce. Recently heartbroken Cara Kennedy decides to go on the three-day vacation she and her ex had booked in Ireland on her own. Upon arriving, her luggage is lost, she’s splashed by mud, and she realizes her jerk ex-boyfriend had the same idea when she sees him outside her hotel. The only silver lining is Finn Maguire, her Uber driver turned tour guide, and his sexy Irish brogue. Finn invites Cara to a Leap Day celebration at a pub where she learns the Irish tradition of women proposing to men on February 29. It’s this, combined with a lot of Irish whiskey, that leads Cara and Finn to wake up married the next morning. With Cara unable to delay her return home, Finn comes with her to Los Angeles to annul their marriage there—but it’s a long process, leaving plenty of time for the pair to grow closer. Walker infuses the story’s first half with wonderful Irish charm, but shifts to a much slower pace once the characters reach L.A. Still, with references to classic rom-coms lending a nostalgic feel throughout, there’s plenty for romance readers to adore. Agent: Pamela Harty, the Knight Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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This Day

Blanka Lipińska, trans. from the Polish by Filip Sporczyk. Atria, $17 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-982174-38-5

Lipińska spins a tantalizing dark erotic romance between a volatile pair with this sequel to 365 Days. After Laura Biel marries don Massimo Torricelli, the Sicilian mob boss who abducted her in book one, her life looks like a fairy tale: she has a loving husband, a beautiful home, and a baby on the way. But Massimo has many enemies, and they know that the best way to cause him pain is to hurt the ones he loves. After a marital misunderstanding, Laura and her best friend, Olga, flee Sicily for their native Poland. But without her husband’s protection, Laura is kidnapped and spirited off to the Canary Islands by the Spanish mafia. Now Massimo will move any mountain to rescue her. Fast-paced, suspenseful, and loaded with twists and turns, this edgy romance will entice fans enamored by complicated, dangerous heroes, though the violence may be triggering for some. The tale ends on a life-or-death cliffhanger, which will leave readers on the edges of their seats but will likely frustrate many in its lack of resolution. New readers will be able to get by on mentions of prior events, but this is best suited for returning fans. It’s a flawed but addictive thrill ride. Agent: Kimberly A. Whalen, the Whalen Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Bad Luck Bridesmaid

Alison Rose Greenberg. Griffin, $16.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-79159-7

Debut author Greenberg pairs a marriage-averse woman with a man looking for forever in this bittersweet treat. After serving as a bridesmaid in three weddings that never actually culminated in marriage, advertising exec Zoey Marks is convinced she’s “the bad luck bridesmaid.” Despite witnessing her parents’ happy, decades-long marriage, Zoey has no interest in spending forever with one person. Then she meets Wall Streeter Rylan Harper III, cousin of Zoey’s bestie, Hannah, and against her better judgement, she falls hard. But Rylan is laser-focused on the future, and when he proposes after about a year of dating, it’s the end of the road. Zoey’s heartbroken—until Hannah’s destination wedding, at which Zoey is once again a bridesmaid, gives her the chance to break her curse. Still, compromise may not be in the cards for these complex protagonists. Zoey is a nuanced heroine whose skepticism of commitment may grate on some rom-com fans, but the narrative thankfully never punishes her for her stance. The clash of ideals makes for meaty romantic conflict, though it’s painful to read some of the more fraught scenes. This multilayered, skillfully plotted novel won’t be for all romance fans, but it’s still a celebration of love in all its forms. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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