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Happy Singles Day

Anne Marie Walker. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $14.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-7282-1649-2

Walker (Save the Date) delivers a touching contemporary romance about finding the courage to love again after heartbreak. Workaholic Paige Parker has been single ever since finding her fiancé in bed with her boss three years earlier. Paige happily devotes herself to her career as a professional organizer and claims to have no desire for a relationship. To prove it to her bestie, Paige heads to the Copper Lantern Inn to privately celebrate Singles Day, February 15. But the run-down inn is nothing like the “barefoot paradise” described in the advertisement, and the “hot-as-hell” innkeeper, Lucas Croft, is anything but welcoming. After their disastrous first encounter, a disappointed Paige decides to return home to Chicago, but a storm makes leaving impossible. Stranded, Paige forms an uneasy truce with widower Lucas—and their growing attraction to one another soon becomes impossible to deny. Walker effortlessly creates sexual tension without the sex, and adds heart to the story through Lucas’s tender relationships with his sister and four-year-old daughter. The dynamic between Paige and her friend, meanwhile, adds plenty of comic moments. The result is a sparkling, heartfelt rom-com. Agent: Pamela Harty, Knight Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/30/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Inside Edge

Ashlyn Kane. Dreamspinner, $14.99 trade paper (228p) ISBN 978-1-64405-895-4

Kane (American Love Songs) charms in this sports-themed gay romance. Former NHL hockey player Nate Overton now works as a commentator on sports show The Inside Edge. When the network brings in Aubrey Chase, a retired figure skater and trust fund baby who goes through men like tissues, as Nate’s new cohost, an awkward hot mic moment gets the pair off to a rocky start. Despite this bad first impression, their chemistry quickly builds, but Nate’s still reeling from a painful divorce and is hesitant to risk his heart on someone who doesn’t seem to take relationships seriously. They make a go at casual dating, but neither feels particularly casual, and they soon wind up exchanging love confessions. Then an unexpected job offer threatens to derail their happiness. Chase writes with a huge helping of heat and heart, and a stellar supporting cast—especially Nate’s entertaining mother, Diane, and his close friends Kelly and Caley—bolster the romance. Chase’s pitch-perfect plotting keeps just the right amount of tension throughout, and the lively conclusion will delight readers. This is a treat. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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How to Catch A Queen

Alyssa Cole. Avon, $7.99 Mass Market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-293396-6

Cole (A Princess on Paper) launches the Runaway Royals series with this thoroughly modern firecracker of a romance about a “trial marriage” between near opposites. No one expects a love match to grow from the hasty pairing between King Sanyu II of the fictional African kingdom of Njaza—who was raised to rule but struggles with debilitating anxiety and doubts his own fitness for the crown—and Shanti Mohapti, an ambitious former farm girl who believes she was born to be a queen. Though Shanti’s confidence and political savvy are just what Sanyu needs, Sanyu’s upbringing in a deeply sexist society hasn’t prepared him to value an educated, outspoken woman, much less to know how to woo her. Sanyu longs for love but is afraid to go after it, and Shanti’s more wedded to her political agenda than to their relationship. Luckily, Cole provides a brilliant cast of secondary characters to prod them toward each other while enhancing the plot with humor and wisdom. Genre traditionalists may balk at the abundant attention to politics and slow emotional burn, but the vivid prose, lively characters, and steamy encounters will keep readers hooked, and the intersections between politics, gender, and ideology will resonate the world over. This strikingly feminist saga raises the bar for contemporary romance. Agent: Lucienne Diver, the Knight Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Flip Side

James Bailey. Morrow, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-301939-3

Bailey’s gimmicky but entertaining debut follows the misadventures of a 28-year-old who proves aimless in both life and love. Josh abruptly finds himself homeless and single after his live-in girlfriend of four years turns down his proposal. Near-broke and thoroughly discouraged by life, Josh moves from London to his parents’ house in Cadbury and decides to entrust his fate to the flip of a coin: for the next year, every decision he makes will be determined by heads or tails. While subjecting himself to the fickleness of random luck, he suffers through several embarrassing attempts to get his romantic life back on track before happening upon the woman of his dreams. He spends a glorious few hours with her in London’s National Gallery, only to lose her in the crowd before he can get her name. With few clues to go on, Josh spends the remainder of the book searching for the woman he knows only as Sunflower Girl, all the while hoping he’ll finally get lucky. Josh’s meet-cute with his love interest doesn’t occur until a third of the way in, and their reunion happens much later, leaving little room for the romance to develop. The result is breezy reading that won’t linger long in readers’ minds. Agent: Hannah Ferguson, Hardman & Swainson Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Butterfly 3

Ashley Antoinette. Griffin, $16.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-13640-4

One woman must choose between the three men in Antoinette’s angsty and emotionally charged third Butterfly novel (after Butterfly 2). Morgan Atkins found love for the first time with volatile gangster Messiah Williams, but after he disappeared, she fell into a loveless engagement with the respectable but controlling Sebastian Fredrick, while creeping around on the side with Ahmeek Harris, Messiah’s street soldier and friend who taught her a gentler kind of love. Two years later, Messiah’s back and he’s staking a claim on Morgan’s heart. Messiah’s presence turns Morgan’s life upside down and she questions the connections she’s built with the other two men—but she’s hiding a secret from Messiah that threatens to stop their romantic rekindling before it can start: she never told him about their twins, born after Messiah disappeared. Dancing between her obligations to her pending marriage with Sebastian, the love she feels for Ahmeek, and her passionate desire to be with Messiah, Morgan must make a series of difficult decisions that affect both her and her makeshift family. Antoinette masterfully weaves a gritty, streetwise tale sure to captivate readers of urban fiction. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Adulting

Liz Talley. Montlake, $12.95 trade paper (364p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2603-1

A troubled celebrity finds common ground with her reluctant therapist in this touching tale of female friendship and personal growth from Talley (Room to Breathe). After yet another setback with drugs and drinking, 25-year-old actor Chase London is paired up with life coach Olivia Han, creator of a program designed to teach 20-somethings how to be healthy, productive adults, by the producer on her latest project. As Chase addresses her past traumas and reestablishes boundaries with her overbearing mother, Olivia wrestles with guilt about her sister’s suicide and is forced to learn some “adulting” techniques of her own. While the heroines bond over their personal demons, Talley effectively contrasts their personalities and backgrounds, making them excellent foils. Meanwhile, Chase finds love with Olivia’s childhood friend Zeke, while Olivia grows closer to Chase’s handsome model friend Spencer. Though Talley touches on heavy topics including suicide, rape, and child abuse, the focus on the protagonists taking active steps toward healing makes for an uplifting story, and the romance adds tension to the plot without dominating the story. The balance of sobering themes and upbeat tone is moving as it teeters on the line between romance and women’s fiction. Agent: Michelle Grajkowski, Three Seas Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Walking the Edge

Sue Ward Drake. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-9751-0

Drake (Hear No Evil) opens her Danger in the Big Easy series with this gripping work of romantic suspense. Former Army Ranger Mitch Guidry’s first job with his brothers’ bounty hunter business is to track down fugitive Les Hurley. Mitch manages to corner Les at Les’s sister Cath’s New Orleans apartment—but he escapes. Not wanting to let his brothers down, Mitch continues to question Cath, hoping she can help in his investigation. Cath, the owner of a ghost tour business, is shocked by this turn of events, and even more unnerved when a ruthless assailant begins targeting her, setting her apartment on fire and attempting to abduct her. Mitch helps her evade her would-be kidnapper and invites her to move in with him so he can keep her safe. As the hunt for Les intensifies and Cath’s mysterious adversary continues to pursue her, the attraction between Mitch and Cath heats up and they both reveal secrets from their pasts. Their simmering sexual tension grows into a strong, convincing emotional bond in the face of adversity, and the vibrant background of Mardi Gras adds intensity to the action. Readers will be eager for the next in the series. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Coffee Corner

Amy Clipston. Zondervan, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-310-36091-9

The pleasant third installment to Clipston’s Amish Marketplace series (after The Farm Stand) turns its focus onto Bethany Gingerich, the proprietor of a marketplace booth selling flavored coffee and homemade donuts in Bird-in-Hand, Pa. Still single at 24, Bethany worries she’ll never find the married bliss that many of her cousins already have. Though she has a crush on taciturn carpenter Micah Zook, she worries her talkative nature will scare him off. Quiet Micah—who makes a point of visiting the marketplace on Saturdays to sample Bethany’s coffees—actually admires Bethany’s outgoing personality, but he’s still grieving his late fiancée and can’t work up the nerve to ask Bethany out. Though the stakes are low, the sweet romance will keep readers engaged as opposites attract within the well-drawn setting of Bird-in-Hand’s Amish community. Though both Bethany and Micah can come across as immature, their relationships to their community, families, and faith add depth. The result is a heartwarming story that works as both a standalone romance and a satisfying series installment. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year, Volume 5

Edited by Sinclair Sexsmith. Cleis, $16.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-62778-308-8

Sexsmith (Sweet and Rough) offers a broad interpretation of eroticism in their short introduction to this steamy anthology—and indeed the best pieces on offer explore refreshingly inventive seductions. Giselle Renarde’s “Pure Energy,” for example, imagines a touchless sexual encounter, while “Blood” by Anita Cassidy follows two lovers exploring the sensuality of menstruation. Around half of these 17 stories feature kink, ranging from gentle power play in K.J. Drake’s “Yes Ma’am” to shockingly intense and beautifully written BDSM in “The Supplicant” by Michelle Osgood. Though Tobi Hill-Meyer’s stand-out “The One Penis Policy” manages a sophisticated character arc for its lonely trans heroine, ending on a resonant note of longing, less successful stories—including “On a Hot and Humid Night” by Nillin Lore and “Torrent and Tumult: A Bipolar Romance” by June Amelia Rose—suffer for including too much context in too few pages. Moving from gentle caresses to forceful paddling, this intentionally inclusive anthology has more hits than misses; fans of Sapphic erotica are sure to find something to strike their fancy. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Just Like This

Cole McCade. Carina Adores, $14.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-335-20090-7

Two hotheaded teachers at an elite Massachusetts boys’ school team up to help a student in trouble in McCade’s scorching second Albin Academy romance (after Just Like That). When PE teacher Damon Louis angrily confronts art teacher Rian Falwell about keeping star athlete Chris Northcote from football practices, Rian’s temper flares; from his perspective, it’s football practice keeping Chris from art class. They soon realize that Chris, who is frequently tired and evasive, has been lying to both of them—but the inflexible assistant principal brushes off their concerns. Damon and Rian must work together to get to the bottom of Chris’s situation, but they frequently lock horns along the way. Their efforts also bring up painful memories of their own complicated family situations, with Rian avoiding his wealthy, manipulative family and Wampanoag Navy vet Damon grappling with having been raised by white parents. When Chris passes out in class and the school nurse discovers that his uniform hides bruises all over his body, Damon and Rian ramp up their investigation. Their stress gives way first to frequent arguments, then to achingly emotional sex scenes. The leads’ volatile emotions and the elusive mystery make for an un-put-downable gay romance. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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