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End of the Day

Hanna Earnest. Carina, $8.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-335-47511-4

In Earnest’s emotionally taut second Night and Day romance (after All the Best Nights) Hollywood makeup artist Benjamina “Benj” Wasik must fake a relationship with her nemesis, actor Milo Fox. When Jackson Fox, Milo’s identical twin, gets caught by paparazzi leaving the home of married pop star Nelle, Benj’s client, it causes a scandal. With Jackson off the grid on vacation, and thus unable to clear things up with the press, Benj hatches a complex plan to save Nelle’s reputation. They’ll say that Jackson and Benj are dating and that he was at Nelle’s visiting her—and to sustain the ruse, Milo will pretend to be his own twin brother and Benj’s boyfriend. Even as the pair fake-date, Benj is determined to keep things platonic, having been burned by Milo before when a steamy kiss between them got her fired from her first movie set, where Milo was the star. Now resentment—and unresolved sexual tension—make the act hard to maintain, especially as, unbeknownst to Benj, Milo has been pining for her. The emotional tug-of-war between the characters crackles with chemistry and romantic tension. This should garner Earnest some new fans. Agent: Elaine Spencer, Knight Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Bad Girl Reputation

Elle Kennedy. Griffin, $16.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-79675-2

When former “bad girl” Genevieve West returns home for her mother’s funeral, she’s tempted to fall back into her wayward ways in Kennedy’s delicious sequel to Good Girl Complex. Twenty-two-year-old Gen has turned over a new leaf in the year since she left Avalon Bay, quitting drinking and getting her life together. Most of the townspeople are willing to chalk up her former misbehavior as teen antics, but sheriff’s deputy Rusty Randall has reasons for not letting it go. During a drunken night out, he assaulted Gen, and, in retaliation, she blew up his marriage. Now that Gen’s back in town, Rusty’s out for revenge. But he’s not her main concern. That would be her ex-boyfriend, Evan Hartley, whom she abandoned without a word. Evan still loves Gen and hopes they can pick up where they left off—but Gen won’t let him lead her back down a bad path. To prove himself, Evan must reform. Evan’s growth from party boy to worthy romance hero is a joy to witness, especially as, along the way, he reminds Gen that having fun is not a crime. The duo’s unbreakable connection comes through on every page with palpable chemistry and an even stronger emotional connection. This will-they-won’t-they offers a fun balance of life lessons and steamy sex scenes. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Merry Christmas Cowboy

Maisey Yates. HQN, $9.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-335-60095-0

Bestseller Yates combines old-school romance tropes—cowboys, virgins, and unexpected pregnancies—in her solid if slightly dated-feeling second Four Corners Ranch contemporary romance (after Unbridled Cowboy). Cowboy Wolf Garrett, 32, would not usually go for innocent 22-year-old Violet Donnelly. Wolf’s been the love-’em-and-leave-’em type ever since the death of his first love, but, not realizing Violet’s inexperience, he sleeps with her while on a two-week visit to her small Oregon town. Violet knows from the start that Wolf’s not big on commitment, and she doesn’t mean to get attached—but she can’t help herself. A month after Wolf returns to his ranch, Violet’s still pining. Her crush becomes complicated, however, when she realizes she’s pregnant. Having been abandoned by her mother as a child, Violet vows to be the best parent possible. When Wolf finds out, he’s just as determined to be responsible, which he believes means marrying Violet. But can Violet stomach a purely practical marriage to the man she’s grown to love? Yates is a master of crafting swaggering cowboy heroes and, though the gender roles here feel outmoded, she delivers all the explosive chemistry readers expect. Series fans will not be disappointed. Agent: Helen Breitwieser, Cornerstone Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Pride and Protest

Nikki Payne. Berkley, $17 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-593-44094-0

Payne debuts with an entertaining and politically charged retelling of Pride and Prejudice that tackles gentrification, prejudice, and the intersections of race, class, and gender. Rigid Filipino CEO Dorsey Fitzgerald and passionate Black DJ and activist Liza Bennet are at odds over Dorsey’s efforts to gentrify Merrytown, Liza’s DC neighborhood, before they even meet. Dorsey is struggling to prove himself as the heir to Pemberley Development following his adoptive parents’ death and Liza’s efforts to rally the community to halt the company’s plans using her radio show and popular social media accounts aren’t making his job any easier. In a twist on Austen’s classic meet-ugly, Liza arrives at a Pemberley gala to stage a flash protest, mistakes Dorsey for one of the waitstaff, and attempts to entice him to join her cause. When a snowstorm later strands them together in the Pemberley offices, their mutual misconceptions start to melt away as their attraction heats up. As their connection grows, they work hard to see eye to eye, even while keeping up appearances by performing their parts on opposite sides of the fight for Merrytown. While it doesn’t stand out among a crowded field of Austen retellings, the redevelopment plot puts a fresh twist on familiar beats and the enemies-to-lovers romance sizzles. This is good fun. Agent: Kim Lionetti, BookEnds Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Christmas at the Ranch

Anita Hughes. Griffin, $16.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-81858-4

Hughes (A Magical New York Christmas) sparkles in this intricately plotted holiday romance. All introverted author Samantha Morgan wants for Christmas is to curl up in her Brooklyn apartment with her dog, Socks. Instead, her editor pressures her to accept an invitation to a house party being thrown by her publisher’s CEO, Arthur Wentworth, at Arthur’s ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo. A nervous flyer, Samantha only gets through the trip with the help of another passenger, Drew, who distracts her with conversation and Kahlúa. Though she soon feels like she’s known him forever, she doesn’t think she’ll ever see Drew again once the plane lands—only to arrive at the Wentworths’ ranch and learn that Drew is Arthur’s son. Both Arthur and Drew’s fiancée, Beatrix, want Drew to return to Manhattan and take over the publishing company, while Drew wants to continue building schools in Thailand. Over the course of an emotional Christmas week, feelings develop between Drew and Samantha, even as Samantha strikes up an unlikely friendship with Beatrix—and encounters an important person from Drew’s past, who might jeopardize Samantha’s future with him. Hughes crafts characters readers will easily fall in love with and keeps the twists coming throughout this low-heat contemporary. The resulting exploration of unexpected love is sure to capture hearts. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Quicksand

Janet Dailey. Kensington, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2737-4

Dailey’s third Champions romance (after Whiplash) sizzles with suspense and sexual tension as the relationship between reluctant business partners goes from professional to personal. Tess Champion has no choice but to allow rancher Brock Tolman to bail her family’s ranch out of foreclosure, officially making him a co-owner, but she still doesn’t trust the man who bought land out from under her father years ago. As they trade rodeo bulls and learn to work together, however, Tess can’t help but feel an attraction towards Brock—culminating in a kiss that ignites feelings she’s buried since the death of her boyfriend, Mitch, in combat 10 years prior. Brock wants to date but Tess is determined to keep things professional—until the pair’s plane goes down on a business trip and they’re forced to rely on each other to survive. Things become even more dire as Tess learns that an unknown enemy is threatening to uncover the truth of Brock’s murky past. Dailey keeps the pages flying with action and attraction. Fans of cowboy romances will be well pleased. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/12/2022 | Details & Permalink

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A Movie Magic Christmas

Caitlin McKenna. Carina, $8.99 Mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-335-45263-4

McKenna returns to small town St. Nicholas, Colo. (after Colorado Christmas Magic) for this lackluster holiday romance. Hollywood starlet Catalina Jones was betrayed and abandoned by her high-profile ex, leading her to create a notorious Ice Queen persona as a defense mechanism. Now she takes a role in a Christmas movie based on St. Nicholas’s famed Scrooge Legend, which states that a person’s faith will be renewed and their wishes granted if they place a letter in the town’s Santa mailbox—and she sets out to disprove the claim by wishing for her soul mate. Of course, soon thereafter she’s reunited with her former best friend Jay Townsend, who, eager to reconnect, takes a job as the film’s still photographer. Jay doesn’t buy Catalina’s Ice Queen act and sets out to thaw her cold demeanor. Their connection is solid and, once they settle a misunderstanding from the past, a convincing love blooms. Unfortunately, the romance is crowded out by myriad unnecessary subplots, including one about the director requiring constant rewrites to the film, all of which readers are tediously subjected to. Series fans might have patience for the busy plot, but others can safely skip this. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/12/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Ravaged

Naima Simone. Montlake, $12.95 trade paper (268p) ISBN 978-1-5420-3068-7

Basketball player Jordan Ransom and Mensa member Miriam Ransom, a graphic novelist, shared a single scorching night together before the start of Simone’s grating second BURNED, Inc. romance (after Heated) and have since agreed to be “just friends”—a feat at which they are failing spectacularly. The slightest provocation—from a brief touch, to a look, to the other person simply entering a room—elicits aggressively horny inner monologues and improbable physical responses from the dual narrators. (“Heat flares so hot, so suddenly, low and deep inside me I wouldn’t be surprised if my ovaries are covered in soot.” “My cock pounds out a steady beat.”) Why ignore such obvious chemistry? It’s Miriam’s policy that she “doesn’t do” athletes, having been burned before. Her friendship with Jordan already erodes this boundary, but she draws the line at dating. That is until Jordan, in a self-sacrificing move, sets her up with a widower teammate, Daniel, who’s interested in dating for the first time since the death of his wife, and Miriam, hypocritically, agrees. The ensuing lackluster love triangle feels largely pointless; Daniel never stands a chance, and both Miriam and Jordan come off like jerks for allowing him to hope. Readers will struggle to root for this couple’s happy ending. Agent: Rachel Brooks, Bookends Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/12/2022 | Details & Permalink

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In the Shadow Garden

Liz Parker. Forever, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-5387-0879-8

Parker debuts with a magical tale of romance and family set in the heart of bourbon country. Addison Haywood, along with her mother, Irene, and her grandmother, Maura, are the owners of Lavender & Lemon Balm tea shop in Yarrow, Ky., and caretakers of the shadow garden, a plot of magical fruits and vegetables used to aid those healing from trauma and heartache. The Haywoods have a long-standing grudge against the other local dynasty, the bourbon distilling Bonner family; Irene was engaged to Nate Bonner. who broke her heart by cheating on her, while Maura maintains a tense rivalry with the Bonner matriarch, Sylvia. When Kaden Bonner, Sylvia’s estranged son who the extended Haywood clan has long suspected of murder, returns to Yarrow for his father’s funeral, his arrival sends a ripple through the town, unearthing family secrets that put both loyalties and magic to the test. Parker packs in several delightful love stories; a murder mystery; a beautiful, plant-based magic system; and a complex history between the two families. All are told with wisecracking humor and a sprinkle of enchantment. The result is a compulsively readable treat that will especially appeal to fans of Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic series. Agent: Rena Rossner, Deborah Harris Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/12/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Two Wrongs Make a Right

Chloe Liese. Berkley, $17 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-44150-3

In this lighthearted rom-com riff on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing from Liese (the Bergman Brothers series), a disastrous first meeting between straightlaced Jamie Westenberg and “tattooed tornado of flying cocktails and unsolicited astrological commentary” Bea Wilmot leaves both entirely sure that they would never work as a couple—despite an instantaneous attraction that neither can shake. When their matchmaking mutual friends fool them into beginning an anonymous correspondence that ends in a blind date, they hatch a revenge plot: they’ll fake date to get their friends’ hopes up and then stage a breakup so dramatic that no one will ever dream of meddling in their dating lives again. The only thing harder than pulling off the ruse, however, is managing to keep from falling for each other for real. The banter is easy and the heat level is high, though the adversarial dynamic between Bea and Jamie will be more low-key than readers might expect given the source material; Liese serves dessert first as the pair iron out their purely aesthetic differences early on to reveal a remarkable compatibility. Fans of Rachel Van Dyken and Sarah Adams will find a lot to love. Agent: Samantha Fabien, Root Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/12/2022 | Details & Permalink

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