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Kept in the Dark

Charlie Cochet. Dreamspinner, $7.99 mass market (204p) ISBN 978-1-64405-236-5

Action sequences and espionage meet charged erotic love scenes in the first romance in the Locke and Keyes Agency series from Cochet (Diamond in the Rough). A one night stand between former Army ranger Álvaro Montero and CIA agent Caiden Cardosa ends with Álvaro murdered and Caiden’s mission sabotaged by a mysterious foe. The shadowy Locke and Keyes Agency resurrects Álvaro, offers him a new identity as “D,” and recruits him to work as a vigilante assassin. Two years later, the agency contacts Caiden, promising to help him figure out who blew his cover and almost got him killed. When Caiden arrives at Locke and Keyes, he and D are shocked to be reunited. Though initially distrustful of each other, Caiden and D are unable to resist their mutual attraction as they work to get revenge on the man who upended both of their lives. The deeply personal stakes of the mission keeps the tension high throughout, though the suspenseful plot plays second fiddle to the love scenes. This passionate series opener is sure to have readers tuning in for the next installment. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/04/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Dirty Letters

Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paperback (332p) ISBN 978-1-5420-1679-7

An anxious, agoraphobic heroine takes center stage in this optimistic contemporary from Keeland and Ward, who last collaborated on Hate Notes. Reclusive novelist Luca Vinetti, whose mental health has deteriorated since the fire that killed her best friend eight years ago, receives an angry letter from Griffin Quinn, the childhood pen pal she stopped responding to after the accident. Despite years of silence, they quickly become close again and their renewed correspondence slides into sexual talk. Luca steels herself to travel cross-country and surprise Griffin, only to arrive and discover that he lives a double life as rock star Cole Archer. Though their bond in person is even stronger than it was in print, Luca worries that Griffin’s life in the public eye is incompatible with her anxieties. Though Griffin and Luca’s letters are endearing and believably intimate, Griffin’s rock-star status and extreme wealth feel much less plausible. Readers motivated to see this unlikely heroine succeed will forgive the more fantastical indulgences of this light, escapist romance. Agent: Kimberly Brower, Brower Literary & Management. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/04/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Would Like to Meet

Rachel Winters. Putnam, $16 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-525-54231-5

Winters’s charming debut combines tropes from classic romantic comedy films to hilarious effect. Ambitious 29-year-old Evie Summer is tired of being an assistant, but to advance in her job at a TV and film talent agency she must convince narcissistic screenwriter Ezra Chester, the agency’s top client, to fulfill his lapsed contract and write the rom-com he owes to his movie studio. Ezra, disillusioned with romantic clichés, refuses to meet his deadline unless Evie can convince him that real relationships can be just like the movies. He gives her three months to find a man via “meet-cute” and fall in love; if she can’t, then he won’t deliver his script and Evie will be in hot water with her boss. The subsequent whirlwind of contrived meet-ups that Evie arranges, each inspired by a different film, is a laugh-out-loud disaster. Her first romantic failure happens to be witnessed by shy single dad Ben, who, along with his precocious daughter Annette, becomes Evie’s audience and provides a grounding influence in her chaotic life—even as Annette attempts to set Evie up with him. Winters employs self-aware, genre-savvy characters to expertly balance humor and heart. This adorable romance is a love letter to cinephiles. Agent: Rebecca Ritchie, A.M. Heath Literary Agents. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/04/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Angel in a Devil’s Arms

Julie Anne Long. Avon, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-286749-0

The delightful second regency romance in the Palace of Rogues series (after Lady Derring Takes a Lover) returns to the converted London boardinghouse that once was the Palace of Rogues, but shifts focus onto co-owner Angelique Breedlove. Angelique’s determination to build a respectable reputation is threatened when the notoriously rakish Lucien Durand, who has been presumed dead for 10 years, requests a room at the Palace. Lucien has returned to London to seek revenge on those who drove him away, but he becomes more invested in Angelique and the other inhabitants of the boarding house than in revisiting his past. Angelique and Lucien are sides of a coin, both seeking to overcome shadowy pasts but with vastly different approaches. The growing relationships between the illegitimate Lucien and his legitimate half-brother and between Angelique and her clumsy maidservant add depth to the story, while Long’s focus on the lives of the middle-class lodgers at the Palace is refreshing. Readers will enjoy this rich depiction of how the past informs but does not dictate the future. Agent: Steve Axelrod, Axelrod Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Cowboy for Christmas

Sara Richardson. Forever, $7.99 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1229-0

Richardson (Colorado Cowboy) wraps up her charming Rocky Mountain Riders series with this emotionally charged romance. Ten years after Darla Michaels’s husband died of brain cancer, she’s still avoiding relationships, save for the occasional hookup with bull rider Ty Forrester. When Topaz Falls, the beloved local café, burns to the ground, Darla suggests a “Cowboy Christmas Festival” to raise funds for its rebuilding and asks Ty to convince Rhett, his obnoxious NFL-star brother, to come to town to take part in a bachelor auction. Ty’s whole family believes Ty to be engaged, as he told them he was spending Christmas with his fiancée to avoid joining his parents for the holidays. Darla agrees to play the role to spare Ty the embarrassment of coming clean and to ensure the café gets the extra money Rhett will bring in at the auction. But the more time she spends pretending to love Ty, the more her real feelings grow. Tight plotting and a sweet surprise ending make for a delightful Christmas treat. Readers will be sad to see the series end. Agent: Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Heart of the Rebellion

Sian Ann Bessey. Covenant, $16.99 trade paper (276p) ISBN 978-1-5244-0973-9

A noblewoman must choose between love and country in this chaste historical romance from Bessey (The Gem Thief). Political unrest in Wales following King Henry IV’s ascension to the British throne gives way to the Welsh Rebellion of 1400. Lady Catrin Buckley’s loyalty to her English father has kept her from embracing her Welsh mother’s heritage, but when Catrin meets the rugged Welshman Rhys ap Tudor, she instantly feels a connection. Despite already being betrothed to the domineering Duke of Bedford, Catrin falls for Rhys. When Rhys and his brothers join Owain Glyndwr’s uprising, Catrin realizes she must follow her heart and aid them, even if it means betraying her father and giving up a life of luxury. Fiery, stubborn Catrin is an admirable heroine, but her personal rebellion and character growth are better developed than her emotional connection with Rhys. History buffs will be gratified by Bessey’s inclusion of real historical events and figures, including Rhys himself. The well-researched political plot will keep readers’ attention, but the central romance lacks a certain spark. (Nov)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Finding Home Again

Brenda Jackson. HQN, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-335-50500-2

A second chance is hard to come by in the sizzling but unevenly paced third romance in Jackson’s Catalina Cove series (after Forget Me Not). Ten years ago, Keagan Chambray accused his girlfriend, Bryce Witherspoon, of cheating, and their relationship came to a disastrous end. Now in their 30s, the two tolerate each other only at the behest of their mutual best friend, Vashti. When Keagan finally hears Bryce’s explanation for what happened between her and her friend Samuel, he realizes what a fool he’s been and sets out to regain Bryce’s heart. Bryce never stopped loving Keagan, but she’s afraid to subject herself to more pain with a man who doesn’t trust her. Even when Bryce and Keagan detest each other, their chemistry leaps off the page, but a rushed mystery introduced late in the plot steals focus and cripples the climax. An underdeveloped antagonist and a disorienting late plot twist keep this enemies-to-lovers romance from living up to its potential. Readers will root for the sparring lovers but long for a more satisfying ending. Agent: Pattie Steele Perkins, Steele Perkins Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Leopard’s Wrath

Christine Feehan. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (432p) ISBN 978-1-984803-54-2

Over-the-top sexuality meets animal instinct in the red-hot 12th romantic fantasy in Feehan’s Leopard series (after Leopard’s Run). Leopard-shifter Mitya was raised to be a ruthless criminal by his Russian mafia boss father. Now a crime lord based near San Antonio, Tex., Mitya spends his time secretly working to reduce violence from within the criminal underworld. But he and his internal leopard are restless and lonely. One night, Mitya finds Ania, a pre-shift leopard shifter, changing a flat tire on the side of the road and stops to offers his assistance. Ania is on a quest to avenge her murdered family, but she allows her mission to be derailed by lust for Mitya. The twisting plots about Ania’s investigation and Mitya’s clash with his sadistic father play second fiddle to Ania and Mitya’s highly charged erotic encounters as both of their leopards enter into heat. While some questions are left unanswered as fodder for the next entry in the series, fans will be pleased with the scorching love scenes and satisfying conclusion. Agent: Steven Axelrod, Axelrod Agency (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Dragon CEO’s Assistant

Jenn Burke. Dreamspinner, $9.99 mass market (220p) ISBN 978-1-64108-209-9

An amnesiac hero wonders whether ignorance really is bliss in the disappointing second paranormal in Burke’s Golden Kingdom series (after The Gryphon King’s Consort). Executive assistant Aidan Bishop wakes up outside of his office building naked with no idea of who he is or how he got there. His boss, a dragon named Nassim Kader, offers Aidan support and a place to stay while he unravels the mystery of his amnesia. Aidan is immediately attracted to Nassim but, with no memory of what their relationship has been, worries about romantically pursuing his boss. As Aidan follows his only lead—a friend named Ryan whom the police suggest Aidan may have been out with the night his memory went blank—and fights his feelings for Nassim, he discovers that everyone around him is harboring secrets. Themes of recovery and letting go are shunted aside in favor of an unearned late-book reveal. Bland characterization and a lackluster resolution make this a romance to skip. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Goddess Gets Her Guy

Ashlyn Chase. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-4926-4558-0

Mother Nature finds her soulmate in this mythic but oddly juvenile contemporary rom-com from Chase (Tiger’s Night Out). Goddesses Fate and Karma are determined to find their high-strung sister Gaia, the goddess of the universe also known as Mother Nature, a match, hoping that falling in love will help to mellow her out. Aaron Samuels, a cardiac surgeon forced into early retirement by a medical condition, hopes to continue his work outside the operating room by discovering a new heart medicine in the Puerto Rican rainforest. When Gaia flees to the same rainforest for some peace and quiet, she and Chase fall in love, but their relationship is hampered by Gaia’s refusal to break her own rule and reveal her true nature to a mortal. Despite being the creator of the universe, Gaia is surprisingly uninformed about human lives and love affairs, giving her story a coming-of-age quality. Mythology buffs will enjoy the supporting cast of minor gods and muses, but readers looking for a more mature romance will grow frustrated by the heroine’s childish antics. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, The Seymour Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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