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The Man Ban

Nicola Marsh. Berkley, $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-19864-3

Marsh returns with a sizzling, standalone sequel to The Boy Toy. White Australian food stylist Harper Ryland is taking a yearlong break from men following a messy breakup and the shock of her parents’ separation. She’s not about to make an exception to her “man ban” just for the aggravatingly sexy doctor who insulted her profession at her best friend’s wedding—no matter how hot it was when they kissed. Anglo-Indian ER doctor Manny Gomes avoids both commitment and his matchmaking grandmother with precision—but he can’t stop thinking about Harper, especially not after they’re unexpectedly reunited in New Zealand. Both are skittish about relationships, and Marsh keeps the reader hooked as the characters slowly open up to each other, revealing the past traumas at the root of their squeamishness. But for their relationship to succeed, they’ll have to look beyond their cultural differences and win over skeptical family members. Their slow-burning romance is slightly undermined by a rushed ending that sees conflicts resolved both too quickly and too neatly. Still, fans of Marsh’s witty dialogue and penchant for puns will race through this excellent beach read. Agent: Kim Lionetti, Bookends Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Scot to the Heart

Caroline Linden. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-291364-7

A Scotsman discovers he’s the heir to an English dukedom in Linden’s enchanting second Desperately Seeking Duke historical romance (after About a Rogue). Captain Drew St. James is serving in the military when he receives a letter from the Duke of Carlyle’s solicitor summoning him to Carlyle Castle. There, the Duchess of Carlyle informs him that he is the heir apparent to the childless duke—but his wicked cousin stands to inherit the title if Drew fails to marry a respectable lady. When Drew travels to his mother’s home in Edinburgh to inform his family of his change in circumstances, he becomes smitten with the beautiful Ilsa Ramsay, an idiosyncratic widow who keeps her pet pony in her home. The pair’s mutual attraction further ignites at a weeklong house party at Stormont Palace. Ilsa knows Drew needs a proper English bride to be his future duchess and counts herself out of the running. But Drew knows Ilsa is the woman for him and is not easily dissuaded—and when Ilsa’s father comes under suspicion of theft, he swoops in to her aid. This swift-moving story has a strong heroine in Ilsa, who is resolute in her quest for happiness. Historical romance fans will adore this sparkling love story. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Highland Legend

Kathryn Le Veque. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $8.99 mass market (288p) ISBN 978-1-72821-016-2

The steamy but simplistic third romance in Le Veque’s Scots and Swords series (after Highland Defender) again immerses readers in life at the Ludus Caledonia, 1400s Scotland’s premiere fight club. Magnus Stewart is the peacock of the Ludus Caledonia and he’s come by his arrogance honestly. The bastard son of a duke, he was held hostage in deplorable conditions throughout his childhood by Ambrose, Duke of Ayr, an adversary of his father’s. Freed seven years ago, Magnus now fills his life with wine, women, and the winnings from his fights—until a face from his past shakes him to his foundation. Diantha de Mora, the daughter of a warlord from Navarre, was also held hostage by Ayr, who’s now trying to marry her off to his son. She escapes and comes to Magnus for protection. He’s willing to pay her way home to Navarre, but she wants to earn her own fare and offers to tend to Magnus’s home to raise the funds. The characters and setting are beautifully shaded—especially the feeling of brotherhood among the members of the Ludus Caledonia—but the plot is disappointingly straightforward. Readers will long for more narrative complexity, but the sweet, spicy romance and familiar faces will please series fans. Agent: Sarah Younger, Nancy Yost Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Only for You

Barb Curtis. Forever, $8.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-5387-0310-6

A fake relationship tests the bonds of friendship in Curtis’s adorable second Sapphire Springs romance (after Forever with You). Emily Holland’s New Year’s resolution is to stop pining over Tim Fraser, who’s been her best friend—and unrequited crush—since high school. But her resolve crashes and burns when Tim asks her to pose as his girlfriend to ward off all the attention he’s getting after being dumped by his fame-seeking ex on her reality TV show. Emily reluctantly agrees in exchange for Tim hosting her grandmother’s birthday on one of his tour company’s boats. Tim quickly becomes addicted to their just-for-show kisses, and as his feelings shift, he suggests they try a real relationship. Emily’s joy is short-lived, however, as Tim soon buckles under his fear and uncertainty about ruining their friendship. If they hope to work things out, they’ll both have to reevaluate what they want from their lives and from each other. Curtis gives the endearing couple plenty of space to do so and the pair’s strong emotional bond, easy camaraderie, and real sense of history makes it easy to see both why they’re friends and why they’re meant to be. This charming small-town romance is sure to win hearts. Agent: Stacey Graham, Three Seas Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Devil in Disguise

Lisa Kleypas. Avon, $8.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-237196-6

Kleypas continues her winning streak with a thoroughly engrossing crossover between her Regency Wallflowers series and Victorian Ravenels novels. Three years after Lady Merritt Sterling’s husband’s death left her in charge of his shipping firm, a costly accident brings the bold, magnetic businesswoman—eldest daughter of an American heiress and the Earl of Westcliff—into close contact with client Keir MacRae, a strikingly handsome, rough-hewn whisky distiller. Both are surprised to find themselves so strongly and immediately drawn to someone so different. Merritt is far above Keir’s touch, and Keir, from the remote Scottish island of Islay, dislikes city life and English society. Complicating their budding relationship are a series of increasingly dangerous calamities, from broken casks, to a stabbing, to a warehouse “blown to smithereens”—all pieces of a deadly mystery to which a popular member of the Wallflowers family holds the key. Social differences notwithstanding, Merritt and Keir are kindred spirits: practical, grounded, and kind, they grew up well loved and loving. But losing her husband after less than two years of marriage and, pivotally, not being able to have his children broke Merritt’s heart. That issue’s clichéd resolution is an unfortunate blemish in an otherwise delightful tale. Still, fans of both series are sure to rejoice in the tender love story. (July)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Isn’t It Bromantic?

Lyssa Kay Adams. Berkley, $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-33277-1

The fourth rom-com—and possibly the best yet—of Adams’s Bromance Book Club series (after Crazy Stupid Bromance), sees beloved side character and pro hockey player Vlad Konnikov, aka The Russian, diagnosed with a gluten allergy, finally alleviating his intestinal distress and leaving him ready to step up as a hero. Nearly done with her graduate degree in Chicago, Elena, an aspiring journalist and Vlad’s estranged wife, reluctantly returns to the Nashville home she’s never shared with Vlad after he suffers an injury during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Elena and Vlad were best friends as children, but after a hurried wedding to get Elena a visa, they went their separate ways, each unsure of the other’s desires. In nursing Vlad through his recovery, meeting his friends from the Bromance Book Club, and making him his favorite Russian meals, Elena becomes more confident in her feelings for her husband—but unless he makes his own emotions clear, she plans to head home to Russia to pursue the truth about her father’s long-ago disappearance. Vlad must take the advice of the romance novels he’s read—and is now writing himself—to prove his worth and get Elena to stay. Readers are sure to fall in love with sensitive Vlad and root for him and Elena. This is an utter delight. Agent: Tara Gelsomino, One Track Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Love Next Door

Helena Hunting. Montlake, $12.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2930-8

This uneven series launch from Hunting (Kiss My Cupcake) takes readers to a sleepy small town sharply divided between townies and wealthy vacationers. Dillion Stitch fled Pearl Lake right out of high school, but when she loses her job, boyfriend, and Chicago apartment and her father asks for help with the family business while her brother, Billy, recovers from a car accident, she reluctantly returns. Donovan “Van” Firestone also heads back to town to renovate the cottage his Grammy Bee willed to him. He’s not sure he’s ready to handle all the memories of his childhood visits that the house will stir up, but when his father informs him that millions are missing from his late mother’s memorial foundation and all signs point to the innocent Van, his weekend getaway turns into a much longer stay to avoid the media storm. Dillion is the executor of Bee’s will and she’s determined to prevent Van from dividing her beloved neighbor’s property and selling it to the highest bidder. Luckily, Van has no intention of selling—but he does enjoy ruffling Dillion’s feathers. After a slow beginning, the couple’s electric chemistry gets the plot moving, though a rushed, simplistic subplot about Billy’s mental health disappoints. Despite the sweet romance, this makes an underwhelming series start. Agent: Kimberly Brower, Brower Lit. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Gentleman’s Daughter

Bianca M. Schwarz. Central Avenue, $16.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-77168-240-4

Schwarz’s enjoyable if unusual second Gentleman Spy Regency romance follows Sir Henry March, secret agent to the crown, on his quest for matrimony. Henry, also the hero of The Innkeeper’s Daughter, has let his mistress, Eliza, go as he searches for an upstanding wife to lend legitimacy to his daughter during her first season. Having been spoiled by his relationship with Eliza, he refuses to settle for anything less than a love match. Enter heroine Isabella Chancellor, a free-spirited painter. She’s set against marriage, but when she meets Henry, she can’t help but reconsider. Still, she fears she will be rejected if it comes out that she’s no longer a virgin because of a rape she suffered before her first season. With the danger and intrigue of Henry’s job looming, can their mutual love prevail? Though the central couple is solid, fans of book one may be disappointed to see Henry’s relationship with Eliza so casually discarded, an unexpected move for a romance series. The supporting cast becomes difficult to track, with characters who feel extraneous to the story, but after a slow start, the novel picks up toward the end, building to a fast-paced climax with a sweet finish. The result is a bit bloated but endearing nonetheless. Agent: Linda Migalti, Susan Schulman Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/21/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Flash Point

Luna Joya. City Owl, $4.99 e-book (358p) ISBN 978-1-6489-8063-3

Joya sends out her Legacy series (after Heart and Seek) with an enticing fifth paranormal romance that finds the five Donovan sisters working to defeat the demon Nymvyra once and for all. Witch Mina Donovan, who, along with her sisters, is a member of a covert supernatural FBI task force, is thrown when her boss calls in a pyro expert to assist on a case, despite Mina’s own ability to wield fire. More disorienting still, the consultant is Josh, her best friend and secret crush, from whom she’s kept some of her powers secret. Josh, a witch hunter, returns Mina’s affection and is frustrated at having been “friend zoned” but worries that their supernatural incompatibility will keep them apart. As Josh assists the force in determining the origin of Nymvyra’s fire-wielding staff, Mina encounters a ghostly prophet who foretells Mina’s death and the fall of the Senate, the witch governing system. Together, they must work to fight the demon and stop the prophecy, all while grappling with their complicated feelings. The emotional friends-to-lovers romance plays out as a tantalizing tug-of-war between Mina and Josh, while the multilayered suspense plot provides satisfying answers to series-long questions. Readers are sure to be pleased. (July)

Reviewed on 05/21/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Lily

Kathleen Bittner Roth. Zebra, $7.99 e-book (448p) ASIN B08KKM36VQ

Roth’s zippy third Bayou Bad Boys romance (after Felice) revisits 19th-century New Orleans as a highborn British lady succumbs to the charms of a Cajun ship captain. Bastien Thibodeaux reluctantly agrees to transport Percival Talbot and his ailing wife, Lily, from Jamaica to New Orleans. During the journey, Bastien saves Lily’s life by discovering the cause of her illness: her clothing has been poisoned. The encounter stokes Bastien’s suspicions that the couple are not who they say they are. After arriving in New Orleans, Bastien offers the Talbots lodgings, and his suspicions are confirmed when Lily confides to him that she is really Lady Liliana Stanhope and Percival is her godfather, Charles Langdon. Charles helped her escape England after her villainous cousin, Julian, tried to frame her for the murder of her father. One passionate night between Bastien and Lily convinces him that she is the one for him, but he worries their class differences are insurmountable. The romantic tension between Bastien and Lily and the suspense surrounding Julian’s continued threats to Lily’s life keep things moving at a steady clip. Lily’s strength in the face of adversity and desire to break free of the restrictions of her class are sure to win readers’ hearts. (July)

Reviewed on 05/21/2021 | Details & Permalink

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