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The Rebel

Kendall Ryan. Kendall Ryan, $14.99 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-1-952036-04-0

Ryan (Playing for Keeps) launches her Looking to Score series with a steamy story full of delicious detail that’s light on angst. Eden Wynn is a wealthy girl from the right side of town, and though Holt Rossi has harbored a crush on her for years, he’s never felt worthy of her. When their one college hookup ends with Eden leaving him a note that reads, “This was a mistake,” Holt’s worst fears are confirmed. Years later, Eden inherits her grandfather’s hockey team and must publicly cope with the fact that her ex, Alex Braun, is one of her players. Just when things couldn’t get more stressful, her team hires Holt as her new security detail. The last thing Eden needs is a relationship tied to her work, but Holt still has feelings for the girl that got away, and soon enough Eden realizes that she made a mistake all those years ago. Ryan keeps the focus on the feelings rather than action, and the result is a soothing escape that more than makes up for its lack of twists and turns with endearing characters, sizzling sex scenes, and an emotion-driven plot. This is the literary equivalent of comfort food. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Not Your Average Hot Guy

Gwenda Bond. Griffin, $16.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-77174-2

Bestselling YA author Bond (Dead Air) makes her adult debut with an entertaining paranormal rom-com and duology launch. Recent college grad Callie is left in charge of her family’s escape room business while her mother is away. But what was supposed to be a quiet weekend with her best friend, Mag, takes an unexpected turn when a Satanic cult steals an occult prop from one of the rooms, revealing it to be the real deal. Callie and Mag are unwittingly pulled into the cult’s plan to summon a demon—the handsome, leather-jacketed Luke Morningstar. Snarky Luke, the Prince of Hell and son of Lucifer himself, is on a trial run collecting souls for his father, but he’s instantly taken with fierce Callie. The cult, not content with mere demon-raising, works to start the apocalypse, and Luke and Callie must team up to stop them, giving rise to conflicted yet steadily mounting feelings. Luke and Callie’s romance is more sweet than sultry, leaving plenty of room for crossover appeal to Bond’s YA fans, though the tone can sometimes feel a bit young for adult readers. The paranormal elements are stronger than the love story, coupling familiar occult references with imaginative depictions of Hell. The result is fun, light, and funny. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Rock Star’s Guide to Getting Your Man

Ashlyn Kane. Dreamspinner, $16.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-64405-993-7

With this diverting contemporary romance, Kane (Fake Dating the Prince) reconnects rocker Jeff Pine with Carter Rhodes, his former BFF and unrequited crush, after 15 years apart. Jeff returns to his hometown of Willow Sound to avoid his band’s looming album deadline, find himself, and make peace with his past. He gets distracted from these goals when he and wholesome workaholic Carter, “Canada’s dreamiest park ranger,” reunite and fall in love. Kane gives the men plenty of issues to deal with, from attending Carter’s father’s funeral and Carter breaking his foot on a nature outing, to Jeff potentially going away on tour and planning to leave his label. Kane breaks up the story into lessons learned by Jeff along the way (“Lesson Four: The Truth Will Set You Free but in, Like, Absolutely the Most Terrifying and Inconvenient Way Possible”). It feels like an unnecessary framework; far more successful are the clever media reports interspersed throughout, which add detail and shading to Jeff’s characterization. This romance is best when the guys slow down and enjoy the quiet life, having campfire nights rather than grappling with the paparazzi, so it’s disappointing when the band’s drama overtakes the story’s second half. Still, there’s plenty of charm to this second chance romance. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/13/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Love and Lotus Blossoms

Anne Shade. Bold Strokes, $19.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-63555-985-9

Shade (Masquerade) imbues this optimistic story of lifelong self-discovery with a refreshing amount of emotional complexity, delivering a queer romance that leans into affection as much as drama, and values friendship and familial love as deeply as romantic connection. Janesse “Ness” Philips’s teenage exploration of her sexuality with Nikki Carter, the boyish girl-next-door, settles into a best friendship that defies Ness’s mother’s deep-seated homophobia. Nikki supports Ness through her on-and-off flirtation with mutual male friend Justin and her mentor-with-benefits relationship with well-connected Keisha. But the romance that continuously draws Ness back throughout her life is that with fashion stylist Maya Lawson, who keeps reappearing despite the relationship mistakes made on both sides. Shade’s well-drawn Black cast and sophistication in presenting a variety of relationship styles—including open relationships and connections that shift between romance and friendship—creates a rich, affirming, and love-filled setting that bolsters Ness and Maya’s true love arc. Throughout the long time frame, which follows Ness from her high school years into her 50s, Shade communicates both bountiful energy and stable comfort. Readers of all ages will easily find many moments that resonate along Ness’s journey. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Anne Ever After

Lynne Marshall. Lynne Marshall, $2.99 e-book (158p) ASIN B08VF6M2J4

Marshall (the Fortunes of Texas series) launches the Return to Whispering Oaks series with an earnest second chance romance. Nurse Anne Grady heads home to Whispering Oaks, Calif., to care for her parents after a motorcycle accident. Her visit reunites her with Jack Lightfoot, the math teacher and volunteer fireman who saved her parents’ lives—and broke Anne’s heart 12 years ago. The pair were once two parts of a tight-knit trio rounded out by Brianna, Anne’s best friend and Jack’s girlfriend. Their strong teenage connection led them to kiss behind Brianna’s back. It meant the world to them both, but before they could confess their feelings, Brianna was diagnosed with cancer, compounding their guilt and leading them never to speak of their potential romance again. This intense backstory saves the otherwise paint-by-numbers plot as Anne and Jack wrestle with and are bonded by their grief and regret. Their connection reignites over hiking trips, roller blading excursions, and hot air balloon rides, but unfortunately their personalities remain sketchy at best and their will-they-won’t-they is resolved not through introspection or personal growth but via a convenient act of god when Jack’s life is endangered. Still, readers will appreciate the romantic dates and heartfelt emotional core. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Dear Santa

Debbie Macomber. Ballantine, $21 (256p) ISBN 978-1-984818-81-2

A Christmas visit home becomes complicated when a letter to Santa gets involved in this sweet and simple holiday romance from bestseller Macomber (Jingle All the Way). Graphic designer Lindy Carmichael is fresh off a devastating breakup with her cheating boyfriend and waiting to hear if the proposal for her dream project was accepted at work when she heads back to Wenatchee, Wash., for the holidays. In an attempt to cheer her up, Lindy’s mother shares the letters to Santa Lindy wrote as a kid, showing that sometimes she got what she wanted—and sometimes she got something even better. Lindy takes her mother’s advice and writes a new letter asking Santa to introduce her to a man who “values family and commitment”—and the next day she unexpectedly reconnects with her childhood best friend, who takes her to the hot new restaurant owned by Lindy’s onetime schoolyard nemesis Billy Kincade, about whom she once wrote to Santa wishing for him to receive a stocking full of coal. As Lindy spends more time with her family, friends, and especially Billy, she finds it harder to imagine leaving, and Billy finds it hard to let her go. There’s not much depth to the romance, but that’s not the point. It’s a fun, fluffy holiday escape. Agent: Theresa Park, Park & Fine Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/27/2021 | Details & Permalink

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All the Best Nights

Hanna Earnest. Carina, $8.99 mass market (360p) ISBN 978-1-335-51716-6

Earnest’s steamy debut pairs pop star Nelle with rock star Bran Kelly, whom she’s had a crush on since before she was “Nelle.” She boldly slips her number into his pocket at an awards show after-party, and their busy schedules finally land them in the same place nearly a year later. Their long-anticipated night together gets off to a rocky start: Bran, already struggling with writer’s block and pressure from his label, just faced his extortionist father that morning at his grandmother’s funeral, putting him in an understandably horrible mood that leaves him less than charming. Things improve as the pair bond over the hounding of the paparazzi and their inability to keep anything just for themselves while living in the public eye. To reclaim their privacy, they impulsively decide to create a secret from the press by getting married that same night and immediately sealing the records. But as that decision gives way to a series of scorching encounters, they begin to wonder what keeping the secret will cost them. Between the ensuing sex scenes, Earnest makes the struggle to hold on to love under the spotlight feel realistic while shedding light on music industry sexism. This red-hot romance should win Earnest fans. Agent: Elaine Spencer, the Knight Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Good Catch

Jennifer Bardsley. Montlake, $12.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2979-7

Bardsley returns to small-town Harper Landing (after Sweet Bliss) with a charming, uproarious romance that begins when former ballerina Marlo Jonas discovers her boyfriend cheated on her. In the wake of their breakup, Marlo’s father challenges her to base her next relationship strictly on personality, not looks. If she succeeds, he’ll allow her to teach the small-group fitness classes she’s been pushing to implement at their family-owned gym. Marlo accepts, joining dating app Good Catch and changing her settings to exclude photos of potential suitors. She never expects her archnemesis, Ben Wexler-Lowry, to be among her matches—and she’s even more surprised when, after a series of bad dates with others, she finds herself warming up to Ben. Ben is on a dating journey of his own, albeit the opposite of Marlo’s. He tends to value quirk and charm over appearance, but has suffered through a string of terrible ex-girlfriends. Now he’s challenging himself to date outside of his comfort zone by strictly pursuing women he finds physically attractive. As Marlo and Ben navigate knee-slappingly disastrous dates, their walls break down and they discover what they’ve been searching for. Their humorous transformation from enemies to lovers is a delight. Agent: Liza Fleissig, Liza Royce Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Charming Artemis

Sarah M. Eden. Covenant Communications, $16.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-5244-1806-9

Eden’s Jonquil Brothers series converges with her Lancaster Family series in this sweet but overstuffed Regency romance which serves as the finale to both, with a forced marriage between two lonely hearts leading the families to uncover a common past. The only person who’s ever made Artemis Lancaster feel truly loved was the gentle stranger who reunited her with her family when she was lost as a child. Though she can’t recall his face, she clings to the memory of his kindness. The death of Charlie Jonquil’s father when Charlie was very young left a similar void that Charlie struggles to fill. When he and Artemis are discovered in an apparently compromising position, the antagonistic pair are forced to marry. Worried their animosity will distress their families, they agree to pretend to be happy around relatives—but time with the chaotic, jovial Lancaster and Jonquil broods melts pretense as the couple sees each other in new lights. Loneliness and loss provide the emotional core of this heartwarming tale with plenty of comic relief to lighten the load. Series readers will be pleased to check in with past favorite characters, but the expansive cast takes time away from the central relationship, causing the initial fire to fizzle. Still, this will be a treat for Eden’s fans. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Duke, Actually

Jenny Holiday. Avon, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-295208-0

Holiday’s follow-up to A Princess for Christmas hits all the right notes as the heir to a dukedom discovers love during the holidays. Max von Hansburg, Baron of Lauden, is the man of honor for the upcoming Christmas wedding of his ex-fiancé and good friend, Princess Marie of Eldovia, to New Yorker Leo Ricci. It’s through that couple that he first met literature professor Dani Martinez, Leo’s best friend, to whom Max reaches out upon traveling to New York to meet another woman his parents want him to marry. His and Dani’s friendship blossoms during December in New York as he accompanies her to a university holiday party attended by her soon-to-be ex-husband and his girlfriend, helping her save face. Dani is drawn to Max, whose kindness and refreshing candor belies his public playboy image, and as the wedding approaches, she travels to Eldovia and spends time at his home where their relationship begins shifting away from being simply platonic. But Max’s parents are set on his arranged marriage and Dani has resolved to never again let a man control her life. Holiday cleverly draws parallels to Love, Actually throughout this witty, emotionally charged holiday tale. Readers will delight in the strong heroine seeking love on her own terms. Agent: Courtney Miller-Callihan, Handspun Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/27/2021 | Details & Permalink

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