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Hearts on Hold

Charish Reid. Carina, $3.99 e-book (448p) ISBN 978-1-4880-5515-7

A straitlaced African-American professor learns about love and spontaneity from a laid-back white librarian in this sexy, effortless contemporary romance from Reid (The Write Escape). Dr. Victoria Reese thrives on order, which is why working with disorganized John Donovan to create an internship program between Pembroke University and the Farmingdale Public Library is going to be a struggle, no matter how handsome and charming she finds him to be. When John casually proposes they engage in “a sordid affair,” Victoria responds by suggesting a strictly scheduled three-week romantic escapade. John agrees to abide by her schedule for the first week, but believes he’ll be able to convince her to do things his way after that. Reid shows off her gift for hilarious dialogue through her protagonists and the whimsical supporting cast, including John’s mother and stepmother, who have become best friends, and Victoria’s fanciful friends. Victoria’s strained relationship with her own mother adds conflict, but John’s patient support keeps the external drama from overpowering the romantic story line. Readers will adore this addictive romance. Agent: Saritza Hernandez, Corvisiero Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Mouthful

C.R. Grissom. Tule, $4.99 e-book (358p) ISBN 978-1-951786-23-6

Grissom’s deeply-felt debut introduces a remarkable heroine whose body image issues are rendered with expert precision. Full-figured Faith Lacerna developed an adult body in elementary school and the subsequent teasing and harassment have lingered with her into college. Her only sexual encounter in high school ended with her humiliated when pictures taken of her without her consent were posted on social media, and she enters college determined never to allow herself to be that vulnerable again. Then the utterly gorgeous Caleb St. John accidently beans her with a Frisbee. Caleb is the antithesis of every cruel man in Faith’s past, and he’s captivated by his “fantasy girl,” who refuses to give him the time of day. Faith’s all-to-human self-esteem issues are achingly convincing, while sweet, persistent Caleb, who is dealing with his ex-girlfriend’s betrayal and, later, with a personal tragedy, is sure to make readers swoon. Grissom’s skill for considerate characterization also extends to Faith’s spirited sidekicks, Kirsty and Beau, and Caleb’s wise friend Everest. Smart, believable, and endearing, this unputdownable romance will win Grissom plenty of fans. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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I’ll Be Watching You

Leslie A. Kelly. Forever, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-5387-3514-5

Kelly’s Hollywood Heat series launch, previously self-published as Watching You, entices with looming danger and sizzling attraction between a Hollywood director and an aspiring screenwriter. Reece Winchester, a former child star from a showbiz family hiding some long-buried secrets, left acting to become a director. While visiting his aunt’s art gallery in Venice Beach, Calif., he becomes enamored with Jessica Jensen, a beautiful redhead at the gallery to promote her artist sister, Liza. Reece introduces himself at Liza’s subsequent show, and the instant attraction between him and Jess leads to a steamy encounter that is cut short when a gunshot intended for Reece shatters the gallery’s window. Determined to keep Jess close and safe, Reece offers her the internship she needs to complete her screenwriting degree. Jess accepts, resolving to keep their relationship professional from that point on, but their chemistry proves impossible to ignore, leading to a passionate encounter. But someone is jealous of Jessica and launches a series of physical attacks against her, adding suspenseful complications to her budding relationship with Reece. Throughout this charged, fast-paced love story, Kelly expertly balances sensuality and intrigue. This will be a hit with readers looking for a spicy contemporary romance. Agent: Annelise Robey, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Great and Precious Things

Rebecca Yarros. Entangled Amara, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-64063-816-7

Yarros (The Last Letter) successfully weaves an emotionally fraught story of a veteran’s reluctant homecoming and his reunion with the woman who has always held his heart. Camden Daniels blames himself for the death of his younger brother Sully while both were deployed in Afghanistan. Upon his return home to Alba, Colo., he discovers everyone else blames him for the death, too, and he leaves town after Sully’s funeral. Six years later, Cam ventures back to help his brother Xander care for their father, who has Alzheimer’s. Upon arrival, Cam is reunited with Willow Bradley, the only woman he has ever loved. But Willow was Sully’s girlfriend, and Cam is convinced he will never be worthy of her. But as they work together on a project for the historical society, Cam and Willow confront their shared past and uncover secrets in Cam’s family that drastically change their relationship. The pathos of Cam’s story is heavy-handed, but Willow’s self-confidence and compassion, along with Yarros’s frank confrontation of the realities of war and memory loss, ground this story in emotion and keep the tone from growing maudlin. With sharp characterization and slow-building revelations, Yarros crafts a moving story that’s sure to please romance fans. Agent: Louise Fury, The Bent Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Swipe Right for a Cowboy

Karen Foley. Tule, $3.99 e-book (258p) ISBN 978-1-951786-15-1

Foley (the Glacier Creek series) launches her Riverrun Ranch series with this sweet, slight romance about finding love and family in unexpected places. City girl Emmaline Claiborne’s ex-boyfriend is getting married to her sister and she turns to a dating app to find an escort to the wedding. When her first choice falls through, Emma asks hunky bull rider Cort Channing to pose as her boyfriend, accompanying her from New York City to her father’s ranch. Though a cowboy is the last thing glamorous Emma thought she wanted, the pair quickly uncover an authentic connection beneath the deception. The couple’s scenes as Emma’s rediscovers the joys of her hometown of Last Stand, Tex., are charming, but the compressed timeline of the wedding weekend cuts short the romantic tension. Also frustrating is Emma’s reluctance to confront her sister and ex, an attempt to save face that registers as a lack of agency. And when obstacles to Emma and Cort’s happiness eventually arise, Emma’s confident brothers and domineering mother do more to steer the narrative than Emma herself. The presence of these commanding characters is good news for future installments, but readers will wish Emma showed more backbone. Still, Last Stand’s inviting atmosphere will have readers eager to return. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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All I Ask

Corinne Michaels. Forever, $14.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-4565-6

This indulgently emotional second-chance romance from Michaels (Come Back for Me) sees the sweet reunion of a pair of single parents. Childhood best friends Teagan Berkeley and Derek Hartz never disclosed their mutual crushes before Teagan’s unplanned pregnancy with her college boyfriend, Derek’s marriage, and his wife’s discomfort with their friendship put them out of contact for over a decade. But when Derek and his daughter move back to Chincoteague Island, Va., following his wife’s death, the pair reunite amid small-town gossip and the clashing personalities of their two teenage girls. Flashbacks to the mutual pining of their teen years and subsequent falling out slowly build the reader’s understanding of the emotional baggage and miscommunication beneath the surface of their present-day interactions, making their eventual love confessions that much more satisfying, though the subsequent sex scenes are disappointingly bland. Some readers will find the relatively painless conflict resolution unrealistic, but most will enjoy the wish fulfillment of a story that sees long-broken hearts heal with barely a scar. This poignant story will gratify hopeless romantics. Agent: Kimberly Brower, Brower Literary & Management Inc. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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His Secret Mistress: A Logical Man’s Guide to Dangerous Women Novel

Cathy Maxwell. Avon, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-289726-8

A painful misunderstanding comes to light in this delightful Regency series launch from Maxwell (The Duke That I Marry). Brandon Balfour, a 36-year-old bachelor, is a prominent member of the anti-marriage Logical Men’s Society and still smarting from a heartbreak in his youth. When Bran’s sister, the Dowager Duchess of Winderton, insists he pay off the older actor that her son has grown infatuated with to convince her to leave the boy alone, Bran laughs off her concern—until he learns the actor in question is Kate Addison, his own former lover. Bran demands that Kate immediately leave the town of Maidenshop or he’ll send the magistrate after her. Surprised at seeing Bran again, spunky Kate refuses to go and confronts Bran about just how badly the disastrous end of their relationship hurt her. Bran is stunned by her anger, believing he is the one who was jilted 15 years ago. As the dark truth of what really happened comes to light, the couple’s verbal sparring and well-matched wits hide their deep emotional vulnerability and make for electric chemistry. Readers will find it easy to root for their happy reunion. Agent: Robin Rue, Writer’s House. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Eternity Springs: The McBrides of Texas: Tucker

Emily March. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-31493-2

Fresh starts bring new love in the charming standalone sequel to March’s Jackson. Veteran Tucker McBride is fed up with his job in D.C. politics, and heads to Redemption, Tex., to visit family and figure out his next steps. The close-knit small town is the perfect setting for Tucker to rediscover that the outdoors is where he’s happiest, and he opens a wilderness survival school across the street from Gillian Thacker’s bridal shop. Gillian loves her job and dreams of becoming a wedding planner to boot, but her relationship with her own fiancé is on the rocks. After her fiancé breaks things off, Gillian is determined to refocus on her career goals, but the more time Gillian spends with Tucker, the more she realizes she may just now be learning what real love feels like. For his part, Tucker is sure they’re meant to be together and sweeps her off to Vegas in his attempt to prove it. Though several of the grand romantic gestures are awkwardly rushed, the couple’s chemistry is believable and their emotional push-and-pull makes for engrossing reading. Both returning and first-time readers will devour this sweet page-turner. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Heart of Blood and Ashes

Milla Vane. Jove, $7.99 mass market (560p) ISBN 978-0-425-25507-0

Combining the scope of an epic fantasy with the scorching sex scenes of erotic romance, Meljean Brook (the Iron Sea Series), writing as Vane, makes a splash with this enemies-to-lovers romance that kicks off her A Gathering of Dragons series. All that barbarian Maddek knows about Princess Yvenne when he captures her is that she’s the daughter of his greatest enemy and thus will be the means of his vengeance. He doesn’t expect the weak but courageous woman to offer an alliance, agreeing to aid him in bringing down her family as she’s burning with her own hatred against her controlling, power-hungry father. Their perilous journey back to Maddek’s homeland to enact their revenge is studded with pain and hardship, but also with sexual tension that develops into an erotic relationship. Warrior Maddek proves himself to be honorable and honest, and Yvenne, though no match for him in strength, demands his respect from the very beginning with her wit and fortitude. Though their trek, which takes up the bulk of the novel, occasionally drags, it offers plenty of tantalizing glimpses into Vane’s richly imagined dark fantasy world. Fans of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel trilogy will be hooked. Agent: Nephele Tempest, the Knight Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Girls Who Pray

Evelyn Dar. Evelyn Dar, $8.99 trade paper (270p) ISBN 978-1-68915-568-7

Dar (It’s Complicated) puts a queer spin on Amish romance in this enjoyable if uneven tale of forbidden love. The successful, ex-Amish young adult novelist writing as Claire Roberts makes a splash with her latest book, a steamy tell-all about an affair between two Amish women. Claire’s despotic former bishop, Vernon Zimmerman, sues Claire for libel and she returns home to Ashville, Ohio, to defend herself. As the trial haltingly unfolds, Claire flashes back to 2006, when 18-year-old Rachel Fisher moves to town. Rachel, chafing at the strict rules of the Amish settlement, takes the fall for the bishop’s daughter, Sarah Zimmerman, over an unapproved radio, bonding them instantly. As they grow closer, Sarah and Rachel try and fail to fight against their mutual attraction, leading to sensual love scenes between the heroines. Rachel runs away repeatedly, unable to reconcile her faith and her feelings, but keeps coming back. Though the flashbacks tell a convincing story, the courtroom scenes are far more broadly rendered and a late revelation in the case strains credulity. Still, strong characters and entertaining drama redeem the novel’s choppy plot. This contemporary love story will please readers of lesbian romance. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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