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Looking for a Cowboy

Donna Grant. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-25006-3

Bestseller Grant delivers an edge-of-your-seat mystery in the steamy fifth Heart of Texas romance (after A Cowboy Like You). Private investigator Marlee Frampton has made it her mission to return kidnapped children to their families ever since her twin sister, Macey, was murdered and Macey’s baby was stolen by the killers 10 years ago. So when she chases a lead about a kidnapped infant to Clearview, Tex., she’s willing to go to any lengths to rescue the child—even manipulating hunky cowboy Cooper Owens to get to his friends Brice and Naomi, new adoptive parents and Marlee’s prime suspects. But Marlee is unprepared for the attraction she feels for Cooper, and when he earnestly offers to help her on the case, she can’t say no. A great cast of supporting characters, including plenty of familiar faces for returning readers, and the underlying element of danger heighten the intricate plot while Marlee’s vulnerability and Cooper’s desire to protect her add emotional depth to their sizzling chemistry. This one is a must-read for romantic suspense fans. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Christmas at Holiday House

RaeAnne Thayne. HQN, $16.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-33508-063-9

This feel-good Christmas contemporary from Thayne (Summer at Lake Haven) kicks off when single mother Abby Powell moves to the refreshingly diverse ski town of Silver Bells, Colo., to work as a live-in nurse for Winnie Lancaster, her best friend Lucy’s grandmother. Lucy’s brother, Ethan, wants his grandmother to move into an assisted living center, but Winnie has other plans—including setting up him up with Abby. Abby gets roped into helping with a fundraiser tour of Winnie’s mansion, and sparks fly when Ethan agrees to help out. But Abby’s still struggling to move on after her husband’s death and planning to move to Austin after the holidays, leaving little room for new attachments. Ethan has his own baggage to work through after witnessing the endless drama of his parents’ dysfunctional relationship. Meanwhile, Lucy struggles with her commitment phobia and her growing attraction to Ethan’s best friend, José Navarro. Fun descriptions of holiday festivities and winter sports add to the atmosphere. Christmas fanatics will find this hits the spot. Agent: Karen Solem, Spencerhill Assoc. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Her Christmas Cowboy

Jessica Clare. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-0-59-310200-8

Clare’s sweet, sexy third Wyoming Cowboys contemporary romance (after The Cowboy Meets His Match) returns to Painted Barrell, Wyo., where shy rancher Caleb Watson works up the nerve to woo elementary school teacher Amy McKinney. Caleb has crushed on Amy since the moment he laid eyes on her, but he’s always been tongue-tied around people, especially women. Still, when he hears Amy needs a Santa Claus for the school’s Christmas carnival, Caleb comes up with enough words to land the part. Recently divorced from her controlling ex-husband, Amy is struggling financially but enjoying her newfound freedom. She’s determined to remain independent—but sweet, silent Caleb manages to turn her head. And when Caleb learns Amy is receiving romantic Secret Santa gifts from another admirer, he steps up his efforts to show her he cares. Readers will be captivated by these wonderfully complex characters; Caleb, who never says much but manages to convey a great deal in a single grunt or glance, is especially charming. Clare’s latest is equal parts naughty and nice, and ought to be on every romance fan’s list. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Twelve Dogs of Christmas

Lizzie Shane. Forever, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-3587-9

Shane (A Royal Christmas Wish) gets her Pine Hollow series off to a strong start with this quaint, Christmassy contemporary. Picturesque Pine Hollow, Vt., relies on the hard work of town council members, including hyper-responsible Ben West, to cultivate its “practically perfect” small-town charm. This charm ramps up even further for the Christmas season, though this year it’s slightly marred by Ben’s Scrooge-like vote to balance the town’s budget by cutting funds to the local dog shelter. The shelter—managed by octogenarians Rita and Hal Gilmore, with the assistance of their granddaughter, photographer Ally, who’s recently returned to Pine Hollow from New York City—must now spend the holiday season scrambling to find homes for a dozen dogs before they’re forced to shut down. Ally and Ben’s first interactions are understandably disastrous, but when Ben’s dog-loving 10-year-old niece, Astrid, whom Ben is raising, finagles a volunteer job at the shelter, Ally and Ben grow closer. Shane integrates Ben’s control issues and Ally’s feelings of perpetual displacement smoothly while also introducing the town at large via cute holiday events and dog adoptions. The mix will be just right for animal lovers seeking a seasonal happily ever after. Agent: Michelle Grajkowski, 3 Seas Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Spoiler Alert

Olivia Dade. Avon, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-300554-9

This clever, creative love story from Dade (Teach Me) explodes preconceptions about what a modern romance heroine should look like. Plus-size geologist April Whittier spends her spare time cosplaying and writing fan fiction for her favorite book series turned TV show, Gods of the Gates. When a photo of one of April’s cosplays goes viral, Marcus Caster-Rupp, the star of the show, asks her out on Twitter to save her from a slew of fat-shaming comments. But readers shouldn’t let this dashing meet-cute fool them: April has a spine of steel and hardly needs saving, and Marcus may look like an alpha, but he has a sweet and vulnerable core. The fanfic that both characters write and the interactions they share online play integral roles in their courtship, and Dade handles both the fun and toxic dynamics of fandom and social media with insight and compassion. Given equal weight are Marcus and April’s difficult family histories, as both work through the damage inflicted by parents who judged them to be “flawed.” The result is nuanced, unflinching, and deeply romantic. Dade’s fans and new readers alike will fall in love. Agent: Sarah Younger, Nancy Yost Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Widow’s Christmas Surprise

Jenna Jaxon. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4976-0

Jaxon balances family drama and seasonal joy in her fast-paced fifth Widows Club Regency romance (after Much Ado About a Widow). Lady Maria Kersey gives birth to her daughter, Jane, shortly after her unfaithful husband, Alan, dies in a duel. Because the Kersey estate is subject to patriarchal inheritance laws, Jane cannot inherit, putting Maria in a precarious financial position. After consulting with Hugh Granger, her late husband’s steward, Maria and Jane move into the estate’s small dower house, clearing the way for the new Lord Kersey to occupy Kersey Hall. As Lord Kersey plots to expel Maria and Jane, Maria and Hugh embark on a relationship and plan to marry, but their plans are derailed by the discovery of Alan’s will, which provides Maria with the financial security she’d thought lost. Because Hugh is a signatory on the will (though he did not read it before signing) he worries that if he marries the newly wealthy Maria, people will assume he had a hand in Alan’s death, and backs out of the engagement. Heartbroken, Maria flees to spend Christmas in London—but still holds out hope for a future with Hugh. Jaxon keeps the pages flying by highlighting just how high-stakes marriage and courtship were for Regency-era women. Maria’s plight is sure to resonate with historical romance fans. Agent: Kathryn Green, Kathryn Green Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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In a Holidaze

Christina Lauren. Gallery, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-982123-94-9

Pseudonymous writing duo Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings (The Honey-Don’t List) put a fantastical twist on holiday cheer in this hilarious and heartwarming rom-com. Mae Jones is 26, single, and unhappy with her boring accounting job, but excited for her annual Christmas trip to a cabin in Park City, Utah, with her friends and family. Her vacation is ruined, though, by the announcement of the eminent sale of the cabin, threatening years of tradition. Mae finishes the trip despondent—only to be hit by a car and wake up back at the beginning of the holiday getaway. This Groundhog Day–style time loop repeats until Mae can figure out how to save the season, hold onto the cabin, and finally act on her yearslong crush on Andrew Hollis, the son of family friends. The messy, slow-burn romance between Andrew and Mae is delectable, but just as engrossing are the subplots devoted to Mae’s complex relationships with her vividly rendered friends and family, and her winding path toward self actualization as she realizes which traditions are worth holding onto. The result is a perfect Christmas treat. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Smokin’ Hot Cowboy Christmas

Kim Redford. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 Mass Market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-9505-9

A big-city fashion designer falls for a cowboy firefighter in Redford’s lackluster seventh Smokin’ Hot Cowboys romance (after Cowboy Firefighter Heat). Belle Tarleton hopes to turn her new Wildcat Bluff County ranch, the Lazy Q, into a dude ranch and home base for Lulabelle & You, her successful line of women’s western wear. Belle plans to debut the revamped ranch with a Christmas party—leaving just six weeks to complete renovations. Hoping to ingratiate herself with the hostile townsfolk by hiring locally, Belle enlists handsome rancher and firefighter Rowdy Holloway—unaware that Rowdy’s in on a conspiracy to run Belle and her “crazy dude ranch idea” out of town. But when Rowdy meets Belle, he is taken aback by her beauty and heart and has second thoughts. Caught between his obligation to the town and his growing feelings for Belle, Rowdy feels like “the unluckiest cowboy alive.” Interference from the Buick Brigade—a group of meddling older ladies—and the drama surrounding a missing cow enliven the otherwise dull romance. And the abrupt, disappointing ending means readers never get to experience Christmas day in Wildcat Bluff County. This isn’t one to live long in the memory. Agency: Elaine English, Elaine P. English Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Cul-de-Sac War

Melissa Ferguson. Thomas Nelson, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7852-3104-2

Ferguson returns to the world of The Dating Charade in this cute but slight rom-com. Actor Bree Leake stumbles into Chip McBride while she’s attempting to avoid an embarrassing costume malfunction during a performance at the historic Barter Theater in Abingddon, Va. It’s an adorable meet-cute, and both are immediately smitten—despite Chip’s girlfriend waiting just inside the theater. But Bree’s feelings sour when, after a fellow driver almost runs her off the road on her way home, she realizes that Chip is both the object of her road rage and her new next-door neighbor. After a few more bungled interactions, their good first impression dissolves completely and the pair become locked in a neighborhood prank war. But after a surprisingly compassionate night which seems to hint toward a cease-fire, Bree pulls off a prank that goes too far. Disappointingly, the focus on their feud leaves little time to explore the softer side of Chip and Bree’s feelings for each other. Instead, the emotional core of the novel is found in Chip’s strained relationship with his father and the touching moments between Bree and her well-intentioned, matchmaking parents. Readers will find plenty here to hold their interest, but long for a more fleshed-out love story. Agent: Kimberly Whalen, the Whalen Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Duke Meets His Match

Karen Tuft. Covenant Communications, $15.99 trade paper (218p) ISBN 978-1-52441-455-9

With this lively, wholesome Regency romance, Tuft (Kit and Elizabeth) offers a thoughtful portrait of love arising from necessity. When George Kendall, Duke of Aylesham, stumbles on bluestocking Susan Jennings hiding out in the library during a society wedding, he accuses her of eavesdropping on his private conversation, leading to a heated confrontation. Both are older than the typical unmarried crowd, but circumstance finds them both making appearances during the next year’s London season, and none of their subsequent run-ins soften that bad first impression. Still, when George is pressured to propose to a foreign royal with known ties to Napoleon, he falsely claims a secret engagement to get out of the match—and the only name that occurs to him in the moment is Susan’s. Though Susan is not happy with the news, she accepts the proposal upon realizing that it will keep her family happy and allow her to avoid the rest of the season. The sweet romance that blooms from their marriage of convenience is as surprising for one as the other. Tuft steers clear of sex scenes, but the sense of collaboration and equality that arises between the lovers more than proves their compatibility. This is a charmer. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 08/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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