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The Wildest Ride

Marcella Bell. HQN, $16.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-335-77322-7

Two headstrong bull riders compete in a reality TV rodeo competition in this enthralling love story from Bell (Stolen to Wear His Crown). Lilian “Lil” Sorrow Island’s grandmother pushes Lil to enroll in the Professional Bull Riders Association Closed Circuit Tour after they discover that Lilian’s late grandfather took out a reverse mortgage on their family ranch. With the bank coming to collect, the cash prize is their best bet to save their ranch. Lil is an underdog, but her chances look good—until all-time great AJ Garza announces he’s coming out of retirement to compete. Garza, too, has a good reason: he hopes to use the money to save the CityBoyz, the after-school boys program he runs with his father figure. Eight years Lil’s senior, Garza is immediately enraptured by her beauty and skill, and Lil, meanwhile, is awed to meet a man she’s idolized. Though they’re rivals, their appreciation of one another, along with the close proximity the competition keeps them in, gives rise to a spontaneous kiss and plenty of spicy banter. The result is thoroughly charming, with strong cowboy flavor, fascinating family histories, and female empowerment front and center. True to its title, this wild ride is sure to sweep readers away. Agent: Helen Breitweiser, Cornerstone Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Virgin Who Humbled Lord Haslemere

Anna Bradley. Lyrical, $7.99 e-book (320p) ASIN B08VC9XG7B

A confirmed spinster falls for a roguish earl in Bradley’s immersive third Swooning Virgins Society Regency romance (after The Virgin Who Vindicated Lord Darlington). Georgiana Harley, a teacher at London’s Clifford School, whose residents specialize in exposing aristocratic corruption among other investigations, instantly despises Benedict Harcourt, Earl of Haslemere, who she meets after Benedict and his drunken friends pay two of her students to compete in a footrace so they can bet on the outcome. Months later, the pair are thrown back together when Benedict’s sister, the Duchess of Kenilworth, turns to the Clifford School for help finding her missing friend, Clara Beauchamp, whom she hasn’t heard from in six years. Georgiana’s investigation leads her down a rabbit hole—and grows even more complicated when a rumor circulates to discredit the Duchess by claiming she cheated on her husband. Benedict and Georgiana team up to get to the bottom of the rumors and sparks soon fly, with Benedict becoming enamored of Georgiana’s caustic wit, and Georgiana discovering the surprising layers beneath Benedict’s devil-may-care facade. Flirtatious banter and intelligent characters fill the pages of this sensuous novel. Historical romance fans will be delighted by Bradley’s clever combination of mystery and romance. Agent: Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Bargain of Blood and Gold

Kristin Jacques. City Owl, $14.99 trade paper (308p) ISBN 978-1-64898-060-2

Jacques (Skin Curse) delivers a charming, fast-paced queer paranormal romance set in the 1850s. Johnathan Newman is a fledgling member of the Society, an organization specializing in the hunting and killing of vampires. When his mentor sends him to Cress Haven to investigate a series of disappearances and murders suspected to be vampire related, he hopes to use the opportunity to prove his worth as a hunter—but he finds much more than he bargained for in the small New England town. Johnathan teams up with Vic, a handsome, witty, and respected local—who also happens to be a vampire in hiding. Learning Vic’s secret makes Johnathan question everything he’s been taught, and the pair can’t help falling for each other. As they delve deeper into the disappearances and murders, they find an evil spreading through Cress Haven that is neither human nor vampire. Though some plot solutions are perhaps a bit convenient, Jacques has a talent for pacing that feels effortless, and moves the story along with snappy dialogue, adorable flirting, and winning found-family relationships. This delightful romp is sure to appeal to fans of Cat Sebastian and Gail Carriger. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Murder at Sunrise Lake

Christine Feehan. Berkley, $28 (432p) ISBN 978-0-593-33314-3

Bestseller Feehan (Lightning Game) expertly reels in readers for a rip-roaring thrill ride in this spectacular standalone. Badass heroine Stella Harrison, the daughter of a serial killer, possesses an intuitive gift for sensing other serial killers through her dreams—and it appears that one’s about to strike in Sunrise Lake, the tiny hamlet in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains where Stella owns a resort. For two years, strong, silent type Sam Rossi has been Stella’s handyman and the closest thing she has to a confidant, but she’s reluctant to tell him of her premonitions—until he becomes a target. Now Stella and Sam race to outsmart the killer—and as the body count rises, their relationship heats up. The pair slowly share the secret details of their lives with each other, including that Sam is a former fixer for the U.S. government with a notorious father of his own. Feehan ramps up the tension early and keeps it climbing until the very end, masterfully throwing out red herrings that will keep readers guessing. The riveting plot strikes a fine balance between romance and danger. Add in irresistible characters, and readers won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough.Agent: Meg Ruley, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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History of Us

Stacey Agdern. Tule, $3.99 e-book (182p) ASIN B08YV7FTWN

Agdern highlights Long Island’s Jewish community in her second Friendships and Festivals romance (after Miracles and Menorahs), but the loving care taken with the depictions of Jewish food and culture doesn’t extend to the novel’s other elements, leaving characters underdeveloped and plot threads dangling. Anna Cohen, the assistant curator at the Manhattan Museum of Jewish History, is spending her summer on Long Island to build an exhibit on the history of the Horowitz-Margaretens, an exceedingly affluent local family. The project brings her back into close contact with her ex, Jacob Horowitz-Margareten, an “ethical billionaire” who heads a charitable foundation grounded in Tikkun Olam, the Jewish concept of repairing the world. As Anna works in Jacob’s family’s archive, the pair must rebuild trust and move past old hurt. Though they discuss their history at length, readers won’t come away with a clear understanding of what led to their initial breakup. Also vague are the descriptions of the setting and even what the characters look like. Friends and family show up to say supportive words, and they all eat a lot of deliciously described food, but though the cultural specificity is commendable, it can also feel heavy-handed. Readers will struggle to invest in this second-chance love story. Agent: Lynnette Novak, the Seymour Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Very Sincerely Yours

Kerry Winfrey. Berkley, $16 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-33341-9

Winfrey (Waiting for Tom Hanks) delivers a sweet and fluffy rom-com that plays out partly through the touching email correspondence between heroine Teddy Phillips, an endearingly hapless 30-something, and hero Everett St. James, a “hot Mr. Rogers.” Both are romantically skittish: Teddy was expecting a proposal when her exploitative doctor boyfriend dumped her and kicked her out of their shared apartment, leaving her floundering. As for Everett, he’s focused all his time and energy on his work hosting a children’s TV show since his own romantic disaster. Teddy finds comfort in Everett’s program and emails him hoping for some of the same supportive guidance he’s so good at doling out to children. Everett’s enchanted by her note, kicking off a pen pal–style relationship that slowly evolves into something more. Winfrey lets their love blossom at a believable pace as they overcome emotional and professional obstacles with the help of their convincing sets of friends. With plenty of smile-worthy misadventures along the way, this light, down-to-earth romance is sure to charm. Agent: Stephen Barbara, InkWell Management. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Hope on the Range

Cindi Madsen. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $8.99 mass market (312p) ISBN 978-1-4926-8920-1

Best friends wrangle troubled teens, a friendly rodeo competition, and their newfound feelings for one another in Madsen’s rowdy second Turn Around Ranch romance (after A Cowboy Never Quits). In Silver Springs, Colo., rancher Tanya Greer falls for her best friend and neighbor, Brady Dawson, but can’t find a way to share her feelings. Brady, who helps runs Turn Around Ranch, his family’s rehabilitation center for troubled teens, returns Tanya’s feelings, but after a botched attempt to make things romantic years ago, he’s wary of crossing the line. Tanya’s parents still treat her like a child, denying her real responsibility on the ranch, so when she gets a job offer that would require her to relocate to the city, she strongly considers it—and the opportunity forces her and Brady to confront their emotions or risk losing each other forever. Meanwhile, love blooms between bad boy Maddox, the newest teen arrival to Turn Around Ranch, and good girl Harlow, the ranch’s youngest employee. Tanya and Brady have a fairly easy transition from friends to lovers, leading the teens’ more tumultuous romance to consistently steal the show. Both rollicking and sweet, this is sure to please fans of cowboy romance. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, the Seymour Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Goodbye

Fiona Lucas. Morrow, $16.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-303638-3

A fateful phone call connects two mourning individuals seeking companionship in this bumpy contemporary romance from Lucas (The Memory Collectors, written as Fiona Harper). Anna Barry has struggled to move on following the death of her husband, Spencer, almost two years ago. She finds comfort in calling Spencer’s old phone number to listen to his voicemail message—and is shocked when one time, someone answers. Turns out, the number was recently transferred to a new owner: reclusive, enigmatic Brody Smith. Brody understands how Anna feels due to his own loss, so she continues to call him whenever she needs to talk through her heartache. Their growing connection helps Brody fight the agoraphobia that’s gripped him during his bereavement and inspires Anna to devote her life to helping connect other grieving people. Anna lives in London, Brody in the countryside, and though they’ve never met, both feel a powerful bond that slowly deepens into love—if only they could move on from the past. Lucas’s complex, unflinching portrayal of Anna and Brody’s grief is commendable, but there are some questionable narrative decisions, as when Lucas backs off from character-defining moments or cuts away from necessary conversations instead of tackling them. This middle-of-the-road romance falls just short of satisfying. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Life, Unscheduled

Kristin Rockaway. Montlake, $12.95 trade paper (318p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2771-7

Rockaway (She’s Faking It) underwhelms with this broadly drawn rom-com. Nicole Palmieri’s demanding job at tech start-up Virtuality requires she keep a meticulous schedule. She always manages to make time for her best friend, Parisa—but when Parisa asks Nicole to be her maid of honor on the same day Nicole takes on a high-profile project at work, her calendar becomes more crowded than ever. Between bridal appointments and meetings with clients, Nicole has no time to spare—but she can’t shake Brandon Phelps, a bar manager she meets on a night out, from her mind. Brandon’s moving away in just a few weeks, making a relationship impractical. Nicole rejects him, but continues to make excuses to see him by offering to create a website for his new bar. Her untenable work-life balance reaches a tipping point when the dates for her work presentation, Parisa’s bachelorette party, and Brandon’s bar opening converge, forcing Nicole to make a tough decision. While Brandon and Nicole have strong chemistry, every other element feels cartoonishly exaggerated: Virtuality borders on dystopian, the wedding planning quickly spirals out of hand, and several dramatic reveals feel unbelievable. Readers will find it difficult to connect. Agent: Jessica Watterson, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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West End Earl

Bethany Bennett. Forever, $8.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-5387-3570-1

A woman assumes her twin brother’s identity in Bennett’s charming second Misfits of Mayfair Regency romance (Any Rogue Will Do). Lord Cal Carlyle is so desperate to protect his beloved 18-year-old sister, Emma, from being married off to a scoundrel during her first season that he offers to pay Adam Hardwick, his friend and faithful land steward, to marry her himself. But Cal soon discovers that scrawny, effeminate Adam is really beautiful Ophelia, “Phee” to her friends. Phee is living as her brother, who died 10 years earlier, until she can claim his inheritance from her villainous uncle, who will stop at nothing to keep the money himself. Cal falls for the fiercely self-sufficient Phee—but he finds his own freedom jeopardized when his father offers Cal’s hand in marriage to satisfy a wager. Bennett’s spirited plot adds Shakespearean twists to the typical Regency fare, complete with humor, sensual love scenes, and pithy observations on gender roles and the social mores of the 1820s. Packed with disguises, debts, and debutantes, this delightful Regency does not disappoint. Agent: Rebecca Straus, DeFiore and Co. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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