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The Astronaut and the Star

Jen Comfort. Montlake, $12.95 trade paper (372p) ISBN 978-1-5420-3260-5

The fun, original premise of Comfort’s debut—which pairs a NASA scientist with an up-and-coming film star—will draw readers in, but it takes some time to warm to the hard-edged heroine. Determined astronaut Regina “Reggie” Hayes has worked hard to be the first woman on the moon, but a disastrous media interview removes her from the short list of candidates for the upcoming mission. In hopes of rebuilding her reputation and proving herself a team player, she volunteers to train actor Jon Leo for his role in a space movie. A bit clumsy and, at first glance, not the brightest bulb, Jon is a cheerful puppy dog of a hero. His sunny disposition slowly grows on icy Reggie as they spend time together in a simulation moon base. Jon isn’t put off by Reggie’s cruel barbs—though some readers will be—and finds her intelligence and ambition highly attractive. Indeed, it’s refreshing that Reggie is the more professionally successful person in their relationship. Much needed backstory and character growth comes in the final quarter as the arrival of Reggie and Jon’s families offer a better understanding of what shaped them, making their romance more believable. This will win over readers who stick with it. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Lockdown on London Lane

Beth Reekles. Wattpad Books, $17.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-989365-85-4

Reekles (The Kissing Booth) pioneers Covid-19 romance in this all-too-realistic Love, Actually–style look at relationships in quarantine. When a resident of a London apartment building tests positive for Covid, the building’s management imposes a seven-day quarantine—much to the chagrin of the residents and their guests. Free-spirited Imogen is trapped in the apartment of her one-night stand, Nate. Ethan and his girlfriend, Charlotte, are unable to reunite upon her return from visiting her parents. Serena and Zach bicker over every little thing. Isla’s forced to show her new boyfriend, Danny, her messy, human side, shattering the perfect image she’d been trying to maintain. And Olivia, who’d been hosting a bridesmaids’ weekend for her best friend’s wedding, must wait even longer to get her apartment back to herself. With no one able to get in or out, some relationships are cemented while others are almost destroyed and feelings are clarified all around. Reekles’s capable plotting toggles between apartments and keeps readers wondering what’s next. The result transforms the harsh realities of quarantine into rom-com enchantment. Agent: Clare Wallace, Darley Anderson Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding

Chencia C. Higgins. Carina Adores, $14.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-335-53494-1

Though the premise of this heartwarming rom-com from Higgins (the Vow series) occasionally strains credulity, its refreshing, well-handled focus on queer women of color finding love and affirmation more than makes up for its shortcomings. D’Vaughn and Kris meet through the reality TV show Instant I Do, which pairs up contestants who’ve never met and gives them six weeks to convince their loved ones they’re getting married, all while actually planning a wedding. If they pull off the deception and make it to the altar, they can choose to either accept prize money or get married for real. D’Vaughn auditioned seeking motivation to come out to her religious family, while Kris hopes to find true love. Their chemistry is instant and robust, but a number of obstacles stand between them and the altar. The show’s details are slightly convoluted, but the competition does create touching opportunities for the contestants’ families to bond and show support. The story strikes the perfect balance for its subgenre, reflecting queer people’s authentic experiences while keeping the mood light and frothy. Higgins gives world-weary readers looking for an inclusive and thoroughly enjoyable escape exactly what they need. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Texas Homecoming

Carolyn Brown. Forever, $8.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-5387-3563-3

Brown delivers plenty of small-town Texan charm in her second Ryan Family romance (after Second Chance at Sunflower Ranch). After traveling the world with Doctors Without Borders, Cody Ryan returns to his family’s ranch in Honey Grove, Tex., to care for his father, who has multiple sclerosis. When a snowstorm hits and Cody crashes his truck, he finds shelter in the barn of one of his patients. Veterinarian Stevie O’Dell, who also returned to town to care for her mother (who has since died), ends up in the barn, too, after her tires blow out. Stevie’s been avoiding Cody, her high school sweetheart, as she never got over him breaking up with her 20 years before. Even after Cody’s brother Jesse comes to their rescue, the roads back to Stevie’s remain impassable, leading her to crash at Cody’s ranch bunkhouse. Stranded together for several days, their feelings rekindle—but will either be willing to risk their heart? Brown excels at crafting down-to-earth characters, and her magnetic protagonists are bolstered through the tragedies and trials of life with the support of their close-knit community. The idyllic small-town setting and charming couple are sure to appeal to fans of Western romance. Agent: Erin Niumata, Folio Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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One Night on the Island

Josie Silver. Ballantine, $17 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-984820-63-1

Bestseller Silver (One Day in December) spins gold from the story of two lost souls whose paths cross on a remote Irish island. London dating columnist Cleo Wilder is sent on assignment to Salvation Island to “self-couple,” à la the actor Emma Watson. Her plans are derailed by Boston photographer Mack Sullivan, who’s visiting the island as part of a break from his tattered marriage—and who intends to stay in his family’s lodge, not knowing that Cleo has rented it. Things get off to a rocky start, with both of them determined to depose the other from the property. Neither gives in and, when a storm hits and ferry service to the island is suspended, they have no choice but to cohabitate. Mack and Cleo’s nuanced characterizations allow readers to readily connect with their dilemmas and reasonings, and as they grow closer, the narrative showcases their sometimes winding path to genuine happiness. Laughter is abundant, owing mostly to the island’s eccentric residents, but Silver also tackles some heavier topics including divorce, identity, singlehood, and fatherhood. This celebration of unexpected love will leave readers thoroughly satisfied. Agent: Nelle Andrew, Rachel Mills Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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You Can Run

Rebecca Zanetti. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5432-0

Zanetti (Driven) launches a romantic suspense series with this pitch-perfect blend of slow-burn romance and adrenaline-fueled thrills. FBI Special Agent Laurel Snow is an expert in serial killers, but she’s the first to say she’s no expert in ordinary people. She doesn’t quite get them, many of them don’t get her, and she’s fine with that. A panicked call from her mother draws her back to her Genesis Valley, Wash., hometown, where her uncle Carl has been accused of murder after a number of bodies were uncovered on a local mountain. What begins as a consultation quickly turns into a joint investigation with both local law enforcement and the Fish and Wildlife office, particularly Capt. Huck Rivers, as more victims are found. Complicating matters is Laurel’s introduction to an enigmatic witness, Abigail Caine, a woman who terrifies and intrigues in equal measure. Both awkward Laurel and dogged Huck are refreshing departures from typical leads while still remaining fiercely independent and easy to root for. Their romance only bolsters the deliciously intricate mystery. Readers will delight in this smart take on classic tropes. Agent: Caitlin Blasdell, Liza Dawson Assoc. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Lead Me Astray

Sondi Warner. Wattpad, $17.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-77729-006-1

Warner (Deserving) launches her Overlay City series with a frenetic polyamorous paranormal romance wrapped inside a thriller set in a supernatural nexus existing in the same space as New Orleans. After college student Aurie Edison is drugged at a party she uncharacteristically crashed, she’s killed by a hit-and-run driver and is left to wander the city as a ghost. Mys, an empath and genderqueer futanari—a supernatural being with hermaphroditic genitals—invites Aurie to their home while she figures out what unfinished business ties her to the world. Werewolf detective Zyr looks into Aurie’s case and discovers an opportunity to finally prosecute powerful vampire Darcy Cyprian, the host of the party where Aurie was drugged. As Aurie, Mys, and Zyr work together, a powerful current of desire runs among all three. Warner treads somewhat awkwardly around Mys’s worry about being rejected for their body while keeping the story queer-positive. There’s more energy put toward the supernaturals interacting with the mundane world than exploring Overlay City itself, and readers will hope for more texture in future installments. Still, though the intercreature politics hew close to genre tropes, there’s ample space for additional stories, and Warner proves her ability to populate them appealingly. This promises good things to come. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell

Taj McCoy. Mira, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1184-3

McCoy’s swoon-worthy debut centers on finding love from the inside out. Savannah “Savvy” Sheldon believes she has the makings of a perfect life with her long-term boyfriend, Jason—until he suddenly dumps her because he wants an “upgrade.” Incensed by his negative comments on her lifestyle and her body, Savvy decides to “reclaim her sexy” and show him what he’s missing. As part of this life makeover, she decides to redesign her kitchen. She’s not expecting the intense attraction she feels to her detailed and attentive contractor, Spencer Morgan. As she renovates both the kitchen and her life, things start looking up for her health, her job, and her budding romance with Spencer—though untimely and unsavory run-ins with Jason threaten to derail her. McCoy populates Savvy’s world with a diverse cast of immediately endearing friends and family, especially besties Joan and Maggie, who reinforce positivity and love for Savvy and help her prioritize the things that make her happy. With a focus on heartbreak and reflection, Savvy’s story has every flavor of love. McCoy is sure to win fans. Agent: Veronica Park, Fuse Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Postilion

S.M. LaViolette. Crooked Sixpence, $15.95 trade paper (366p) ISBN 978-1-951662-46-2

Thrills abound in LaViolette’s red-hot second Masqueraders Regency (after The Footman). After Benedicta “Benna” de Montfort’s brother and father die, Benna, now the 10th Duchess of Wake, is left in the care of a cousin until she comes of age. When she discovers the man’s sinister plot to steal her inheritance and hide her away—or perhaps even have her killed—she runs away, disguising herself as a boy and calling herself Ben Piddock. Well versed in horses, she lands a position as a postilion with Jago Crewe, the new Earl of Trebolton. Benna works in the stables until Jago discovers her true gender—though not her rank. Immediately enamored with her, he hires Benna to restore the estate, which is long overdue for repairs. The proximity forges a tighter bond between them as they navigate the complexities of their relationship—and the secrets that threaten to tear it apart. As in the first installment, LaViolette’s handle on sexual tension is masterful and steamy scenes abound. Fans will be delighted. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 12/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Lease on Love

Falon Ballard. Putnam, $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-41991-5

Debut author Ballard shines in this quirky, heartwarming contemporary romance. After financial analyst Sadie Green gets passed over for a well-deserved promotion, her profane outburst earns her a pink slip. While drunkenly commiserating with her best friends, she mistakes a roommate-finding app for a dating app and ends up matched with the reclusive Jack Thomas. They clear up the miscommunication fairly quickly and, after seeing Jack’s expansive Brooklyn brownstone—and learning how little in rent he’s asking—Sadie moves in and decides to chase her longtime dream of becoming a florist. At first, she sees Jack as just her kind but nerdy roommate, but when their chemistry sparks, it’s explosive. Then Sadie discovers that Jack has been keeping a (relatively mild) secret about his past, and their future seems anything but assured. Ballard’s snappy prose and unconventional couple charm, and she gets some good chuckles out of skewering the New York City real estate market. Meanwhile, stellar supporting characters (especially Sadie’s besties Gemma, Nick, and Harley) provide a solid underpinning to this enjoyable tale. This is a treat. Agent: Kimberly Whalen, the Whalen Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

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