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Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 5

Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. Cleis, $16.95 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-62778-290-6

Ranging from contemporary to historical, playful to kinky, and realistic to fantastical, the 21 stories in this spicy anthology are unified only by their focus on female pleasure. Alexa J. Day’s “Just Inappropriate” and Emerald’s “Something New” delve into sexual fantasies shared and explored by loving contemporary couples in sexcapades made all the sweeter by how plausible they are. Other stories serve up fantasies in a more traditional sense, as in “If the Ocean” by Loretta Black, in which a steamy tryst with a mermaid turns a woman’s life upside down. While some of these tales—including “Frosting” by Kathleen Delaney-Adams, about lesbian BDSM in a cupcake shop—strain credulity and push the boundaries of consent, others are full of fun, joy, and trust, as in Angora Shade’s “Vintage Treasures,” about a couple letting their wilder sides come out to play when they uncover a chest of unused vintage sex toys. Not all stories will appeal to all readers, but none are obvious turnoffs. There’s a flavor or two for any erotica fan in this wide-ranging sampler. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Love on Beach Avenue

Jennifer Probst. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-1-5420-1591-2

Probst (All Roads Lead to You) opens her Sunshine Sisters series with an effervescent rom-com. Avery Sunshine and her sisters, free-spirited Taylor and single mother Bella, run Sunshine Bridal, a wedding planning firm in Cape May, N.J. When Avery’s college best friend, Ally Ross, gets engaged, she asks Avery to plan her dream wedding in just four months. Avery agrees, but instantly regrets it once Ally’s control-freak brother, Carter, insists on helping. When the Rosses’ parents died over a decade ago, then 19-year-old Carter put off his own life plans to raise his 10-year-old sister, and it’s left him overprotective. Carter remembers Avery as the party girl who was a bad influence on his sister in college, and Avery remembers him as the jerk who judged her for it. Though they initially clash over the wedding plans, sparks fly between them as each realizes how much the other has changed. The characters leap off the page, the love story is perfectly paced, and an adorable dog named Lucy adds charm. Readers will eagerly await the next in the series. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Big Girl Pill

K.D. Williamson. Dirt Road, $15.95 e-book (406p) ISBN 978-1-947253-37-7

Williamson (Drawing the Line) makes an emotional case for following one’s heart in the face of self-doubt and intolerance in this sweet queer romance. In college, out and proud lesbian Maya Davis slept with her best friend and long-standing crush Nina Sterling, only for Nina to reject her the next morning. Two years later, Nina is engaged to a man and asks Maya to be a bridesmaid, despite the weirdness that’s lingered between them since their one-night stand and the protestations of her bigoted mother. When Maya arrives in Asheville, N.C., she tries to convince herself that being part of the wedding will help her to finally move on, but seeing Maya again leads Nina to have second thoughts about getting married. Maya and Nina’s alternating perspectives reveal the depths of their emotions but also their years’ worth of communication issues. Supporting characters, including Nina’s quirky cousin Rachel and Maya’s competitive twin brother, enhance the plot. This gratifying love story is sure to satisfy any hopeless romantic. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Promised

Leah Garriott. Shadow Mountain, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-62972-614-4

Deception runs rampant in Garriott’s promising Regency-set debut. Heartbreak leaves Margaret Britton determined to marry for convenience, unwilling to put her feelings on the line. When she meets known rake Fredrick Northam, she believes he’d make the perfect husband, as he is too roguish to inspire real feelings. Fredrick’s cousin, Lord Gregory Williams, is immediately drawn to Margaret’s fiery spirit, and he refuses to stand by and let his cousin ruin her, which he is sure would be the outcome of their match. The best way he can think to keep the pair apart is to marry Margaret himself. When Margaret’s father agrees to their union, Margaret is furious. Gregory works to win her over, but as Margaret’s defenses finally start to fall, a secret threatens the passion she was just rediscovering. Margaret and Gregory are well-matched in their stubbornness, but the swift changes in their relationship are jarring and unbelievable. There’s plenty of chemistry between them, but the love story feels unnaturally rushed. Still, the vivid period details and the hero’s grand romantic efforts will please fans of historical romance. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Archangel’s War

Nalini Singh. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (480p) ISBN 978-0-451-49166-4

The winding 12th paranormal romance in Singh’s Guild Hunter series (after Archangel’s Prophecy), focuses on power struggles between immortal beings and does not disappoint. A magical force known as the Cascade has augmented the already formidable might of the existing Archangels, causing power surges that rouse the Ancients from their sleep, among them gods and mythical beasts. Navigating this new world order, Archangel Raphael runs the risk of being unable to control his powers and unwittingly turning his human lover, Elena, into his vessel. As the two fight through the chaos, the evil archangel Lijuan goes power-mad and sets out on an unhinged quest to reign as a goddess. To stop her, Raphael and Elena must combine their strength. Though the depiction of their devotion to each other occasionally grows overwrought and repetitive, their enhanced powers lead to epic magical fight scenes that will keep readers hooked. Singh’s twisting plot and satisfying conclusion will have paranormal romance fans tuning in for the next installment. Agent: Nephele Tempest, Knight Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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My One and Only Cowboy

A.J. Pine. Forever, $8.99 mass market (704p) ISBN 978-1-5387-4979-1

The first contemporary romance in the Meadow Valley Ranch series from Pine (Hard Loving Cowboy) gets off to a slow start but builds into a sweet, if unremarkable, love story. Veterinary technician Delaney Harper’s con artist ex-husband left her with practically nothing, but she’s determined to take back the California land he illegally sold without her consent. The buyer, cowboy Sam Callahan, just opened a dude ranch on the land, fulfilling a lifelong dream but barely breaking even. When Delaney confronts Sam, an instant attraction sparks between them. Sam offers her free lodging at the ranch while they figure out the legal situation, but Delaney insists on working to earn her keep. The pair bond while taking care of the horses, even though Sam is determined to keep Delaney at arm’s length, considering himself a bad bet because he may inherit his father’s early-onset dementia. Though the plot is by the numbers, Sam and Delaney have a genuine connection. Pine doesn’t offer any surprises in Meadow Valley, but it’s a pleasant enough place to visit. This edition includes a novel by Carolyn Brown, not seen by PW. Agent: Emily Kim, Prospect Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Sweet Talkin’ Lover

Tracey Livesay. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-297954-4

Livesay (Love Will Always Remember) opens her Girls Trip series with a smart, witty interracial romance that explores the tension between business and ethics, but lacks the small-town heart readers will crave. Black cosmetics marketer Caila Harris is too focused on her potential promotion to enjoy her annual getaway with her college pals. When their trip is cut short by the death of her grandfather, Caila messes up at work, flubbing her chance at the promotion in her grief. Her boss gives Caila one more chance to prove herself, sending her to Bradleton, Va., to determine whether to close the company’s factory there. Bradleton’s white mayor, Wyatt Bradley, aka Mayor McHottie, is determined to keep the factory running and hopes to win Caila over by getting her involved in small-town life. But he’s not above using their mutual attraction for his purposes either. Though the romance is believable, the townsfolk come off as petty and insular, muddling the story. The framework of Caila and her friends on vacation—the book ends with them planning their next trip—introduces some big personalities who will be back for future installments, but remains tangential to the plot, leaving the reader unsure what to expect from the next in the series. Readers will appreciate Livesay’s protagonists but have trouble connecting with their setting. Agent: Nalini Akolekar, Spencerhill Assoc. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Math of Life and Death: 7 Mathematical Principles That Shape Our Lives

Kit Yates. Scribner, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-9821-1187-8

Ponzi schemes, nuclear fission, and viral marketing are just a few of the topics covered in this savvy book from first-time author Yates, a senior mathematics lecturer at the University of Bath. Exposing the “shaky mathematics” behind the Body Mass Index and health-related diagnostic tools, Yates also offers skepticism of home DNA testing kits and the risk calculations offered by genome-testing companies. Yates considers how calculation errors and “pseudomathematical arguments” have led to wrongful convictions, including of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, condemned to life imprisonment in 1894 after an expert witness’s “abstruse mathematical analysis” linked him to a handwritten message offering French military secrets to the Germans. (Over a decade later, the famous mathematician Henri Poincaré pointed out a basic problem with the witness’s math, and Dreyfus was exonerated.) With fervor, Yates exposes the misuse of statistics and use of “mathematical misdirections” in patient-advice publications and scientific literature. Readers with backgrounds in math should particularly enjoy the heavier chapters, covering topics such as optimization and the seven Millennium Prize Problems, “considered to be the most important unresolved problems in mathematics.” However, any inquisitive and open-minded reader can enjoy this valuable primer on the use and abuse of numbers in the everyday world. Agent: Jason Bartholomew, Hodder. (U.K.) (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Map is Only One Story: 20 Writers on Immigration, Family, and the Meaning of Home

Edited by Nicole Chung and Mensah Demary. Catapult, $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-94822-678-3

Catapult magazine editor and memoirist Chung (All You Can Ever Know) and Catapult founder Demary (coauthor, Let Love Have the Last Word) show how “literature can provide a pathway to greater empathy and understanding” in this collection of essays gleaned from the magazine’s archives and focused on the theme of immigration to the U.S. (and, in one piece, Canada). It features writers from the world over, including both documented and undocumented immigrants, as well as first-, second-, and third-generation Americans. Some contributors, such as Sharine Taylor writing about her Jamaican immigrant grandmother’s sly use of patois, focus on older relatives (“Patois was our secret, allowing us to be in the English world and then escape to Jamaica through language”); others confront past and future choices with ambivalence (“Should I—an immigrant to, a writer in, and a critic of the United States—apply for citizenship?” Bix Gabriel asks at the end of an essay detailing her odyssey from India and concern over the Trump presidency). Other essayists relate encounters with racism, clueless natives, and fellow migrants. This collection is a vital corrective to discussions of global migration that fail to acknowledge the humanity of migrants themselves. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Duty or Desire

Brenda Jackson. Harlequin Desire, $5.25 mass market (224p) ISBN 978-1-335-60403-3

Simplistic characters and an overstuffed plot drag down the tepid fifth romance in Jackson’s Westmoreland Legacy series (after His to Claim). Denver Sheriff Peterson Higgins, a bachelor following the death of his fiancée, recently assumed guardianship of his brother’s 14-month-old daughter. When his live-in nanny requests time off, he finds her replacement in Myra Hollister, despite his fear that the beautiful woman, 12 years his junior, will prove too much of a temptation. Myra’s in hiding from her cartoonishly evil brother, who’s plotting to keep her from gaining control of the family company on her 25th birthday. Though Myra shares Pete’s instant attraction, she doesn’t want the complication of getting involved with her boss. Pete’s close friends in the Westmoreland clan sense the chemistry between the pair and conspire to get them together, but when Myra’s family drama takes a violent turn, negotiating their fraught relationship will have to wait. Despite life-threatening stakes, blunt, tepid sex scenes and intrusive exposition slow the pace. Though series fans will enjoy checking in with recurring characters, many readers will be turned off by the age gap and boss-employee dynamic of the central relationship. Agent: Pattie Steele-Perkins, Steele-Perkins Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/18/2019 | Details & Permalink

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