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Calder Brand

Janet Dailey. Kensington, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2744-2

Dailey (1944–2013) posthumously launches a spin-off to her Calder series with this fast-paced return to the 19th-century American West. Sixteen-year-old Joe Dollarhide is working on a cattle drive for Chase Benteen Calder when he meets beautiful Sarah Foxworth and saves her from an attack. Their encounter is brief, but leaves Joe smitten. When Joe is injured in a stampede, Calder leaves him for dead, but he’s rescued by passing outlaws. Two years later, Joe is shot while working to steal Calder’s cattle—but one of Calder’s cowhands, recognizing his former coworker, arranges for the injured Joe to be taken to a local woman known for her medical skills. It turns out to be Sarah, who nurses Joe back to health. Their mutual attraction builds to an affair, but Joe is determined to get revenge on Calder and leaves her, not knowing she is pregnant. When he learns of his child, he must choose between his plans for retribution and the chance at a family. Dailey highlights the brutal reality of survival in the American West while building a sprawling, emotional love story for Joe and Sarah. Both fans and newcomers to Dailey’s novels will be pleased. Agent: Richard Curtis, Richard Curtis Assoc. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Figure of Love

Minerva Spencer. Crooked Sixpence, $9.95 trade paper (330p) ISBN 978-1-951662-02-8

Spencer’s appealing if predictable second Academy of Love Regency closely follows the formula set up in Music of Love, where a reclusive but wealthy man falls for a resilient woman valiantly trying to escape her abuser through plying an artistic trade. Gareth Lockheart, an orphan who has acquired enough wealth to rise through social ranks, hires Serena Lombard, a sculptor, gardener, and single mother, to oversee the transformation of the grounds at his country estate, promising a substantial salary and full creative freedom. Attraction simmers between employer and employee from the beginning, culminating in emotional sex. But their budding relationship is jeopardized when Serena’s rapist, Etienne Bardot, arrives in town, blackmailing Serena and threatening their 10-year-old son, Oliver, the result of his assault on Serena. Now Gareth will do whatever it takes to defend her. While themes of sexual violence repeatedly cast a pall on the romance, Spencer’s talent for creating vividly realized settings and realistic characters continue to impress. Series readers will be pleased, if not wowed. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Devil in Her Bed

Kerrigan Byrne. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-31888-6

A quest for revenge reunites childhood friends in Byrne’s explosive finale to the Devil You Know trilogy (after All Scot and Bothered). In 1872, young Pippa Hargrave narrowly escapes the massacre of her family, friends, and childhood crush, Declan Chandler, at the hands of the Crimson Council, a secret society with ties to the occult. Believing herself to be the only survivor, Pippa assumes the identity of wealthy, titled Francesca Cavendish, her late best friend, and sets her sights on vengeance. Twenty years later, Francesca uses her free rein in London society to dig up dirt on the Council, seducing powerful men only to drug them and scour their homes for secrets while they are passed out. But unbeknownst to Francesca, Declan is still alive, now a spy for the Crown and a master of disguise. Skeptical of the woman claiming to be Francesca, his teenage infatuation, he’s determined to learn her secrets. But as they grow closer, they recognize one another as kindred spirits and join forces to bring down their enemies. Headstrong leads, sizzling sex scenes, and dastardly villains will suck readers in, and series fans will be pleased to see some familiar faces. This is a worthy finale. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Marriage Pass

Briana Cole. Dafina, $15.95 Trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2955-2

Lust, infidelity, and revenge drive this downright devilish series launch from Cole (The Hearts We Burn). When chronic cheater and cosmetic surgeon Dorian Graham married his on-again, off-again girlfriend of over 10 years, he vowed to stop his philandering ways—so he’s shocked when his wife offers him a marriage pass as an anniversary present: one night to do whatever he wants with whomever he wants, no questions asked. Shantae Graham doesn’t trust her husband, but she’s always wanted to start a family and live happily ever after with him and hopes the pass will bring them closer together. Unbeknownst to Shantae, Dorian uses his pass to sleep with her flighty estranged sister, Reagan—and when Reagan refuses to let go after just one night, their affair leads Dorian’s life to spiral into chaos as he’s forced to deal with a suicide attempt, an unplanned pregnancy, and threats to his medical practice. There are enough twists and turns to this erotic suspense novel to cause whiplash, and the ending is as surprising as it is satisfying. Sensual and shocking, this is a surefire hit. Agent: Shawanda Williams, N’Tyse Enterprises. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Flight

Laura Griffin. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-19734-9

Griffin’s standalone second Texas Murder Files romance (after Hidden) pairs a thrilling suspense plot with a believable love story. Recognizing the need to de-stress after a case goes awry, forensic photographer Miranda Rhoads moves to coastal Lost Beach, Tex., to capture the native birds for the Texas Birding Association’s upcoming calendar. While on the job, she stumbles across two dead bodies and her past training compels her to take comprehensive photos of the crime scene before vital evidence—including the exotic feather clutched in one victim’s hand—is lost in an approaching storm. Impressed by her work, Det. Joel Breda tries to hire her to the Lost Beach Police Department. Miranda is reluctant to reenter the field, but given her experience and natural instincts, she finds she can’t stay away from the case for long—particularly as it becomes clear that the deaths were the work of a serial killer. Griffin takes care to develop a satisfying and complex mystery without sacrificing time for Joel and Miranda to build trust and chemistry as their partnership moves from professional to personal. Series fans will not be disappointed. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Refining the Debutante

Anneka R. Walker. Covenant Communications, $15.99 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-5244-1694-2

Adversity reveals a woman’s true character in this tender Regency from Walker (The Masked Baron). The belle of London Society, captivating Miranda Bartley, is shocked when Ethan Roderick abruptly breaks off their courtship, accusing her of being vain and caring more for “silly dresses and bonnets” than “the state of the country.” The breakup presages a downward spiral in Miranda’s life, as her family loses their fortune and she flees London in disgrace to take up a life of backbreaking servitude in the home of an estranged uncle. Ethan, meanwhile, tries to move on from vivacious Miranda with another, more suitable young woman. But six weeks later, Ethan’s chance encounter with a much changed Miranda prompts him to invite her back to his family’s country home as his guest, determined to help her despite the potential scandal it will cause his family. The predictable plot is offset by the grace and humility of the central characters and well-shaded supporting cast—especially elderly Lady Callister, whose cheeky impertinence hides a heart of gold. The result is a sweet, solid romance. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Wedding Game

Meghan Quinn. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2519-5

The enemies-to-lovers trope puts two families through the wringer in this entertaining contemporary romance from Quinn (See Me After Class). When Martha Stewart–wannabe Luna Rossi hears that The Wedding Game, a popular reality show, is looking for contestants to create a beautiful wedding on a budget, she feels certain that her brother, Cohen, and his husband-to-be, Declan, could win with her expert crafting skills behind them and coaxes them to enter. Meanwhile, Thad Baxter, whose fiancée, Naomi, is pregnant, begs his brother, Alec, a ruthless divorce lawyer, to support his entry because the show requires the participation of at least one family member. Alec and Thad witnessed their parents’ acrimonious divorce, which left Alec jaded and his relationship with Thad strained—but he eventually agrees. Once selected, a clash between the teams is inevitable, and sparks fly between Luna and Alec from the start. As hostility turns into romance, they decide to keep their relationship quiet—even from their brothers—so as not to jeopardize the competition. But when the secret is revealed, tempers flare, and Luna and Alec must decide where their priorities lie. Readers won’t have to be reality TV fans to get a kick out of this fun, quirky rom-com. Agent: Aimee Ashcraft, Brower Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Unforgotten

Garrett Leigh. Carina, $4.99 e-book (285p) ISBN 978-0-369-70011-7

Two wounded men find healing through love in Leigh’s middling sequel to Forgiven. When Billy Daley loses both his job and his apartment, he moves back home to Rushmere, England, and in with Gus Amur, a coworker of Billy’s estranged brother, Luke. The new roommates shared a drunken kiss five years ago and now find themselves trying to resist their mutual attraction as they navigate close quarters and work together at Luke’s roofing company. Gus, who has been hooking up on Grindr, decides he wants a more stable relationship after reconnecting with Billy—but Billy’s bad temper and suspicions that Gus is still sleeping around jeopardize the couple’s happiness. The central romance, which involves plenty of sex and some skinny-dipping, is only mildly engaging. More exciting are two subplots that generate drama—Billy’s effort to rescue a dog left in a hot car, and a life-or-death accident on a roofing job site. This entry is one of the author’s lesser efforts, best suited for Leigh’s most devoted fans. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Little French Bridal Shop

Jennifer Dupee. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-27152-5

Dupee’s uneven debut features two protagonists drawn together by their love for a seaside Massachusetts house and shared ambivalence about marriage. As teenagers, Larisa Pearl and Jack Merrill met at Larisa’s Aunt Ursula’s home, Elmhurst, where Jack worked as caretaker. Now nearing 40, Larisa returns to prepare the house for sale following her aunt’s death. Her personal life is in shambles: she recently lost her job and provoked a dramatic breakup with her boyfriend. Upon arriving in town, she impulsively buys a wedding dress from the eponymous shop—despite having no intention to marry. Her purchase inevitably sparks small-town gossip, which snowballs until Larisa is planning a wedding without a groom. Jack, meanwhile, has grown into “a bad husband, a mediocre father.” After getting the boot from his wife, Holly, he moves into Elmhurst and offers to help Larisa with renovations. The story begins with the feel of a romantic comedy, but becomes increasingly heavy in tone and subject matter—with subplots about Larisa coming to terms with her mother’s dementia and Jack’s half-hearted efforts to save his marriage despite his attraction to Larisa—as Dupee expands on the theme that “everyone is hard to live with... even oneself.” This will appeal to readers looking for more sober romance. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Way You Love Me

Elle Wright. Dafina, $8.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2581-3

A Hollywood talent agent rewrites the script when he falls for his client in the sweet, sassy finale to Wright’s Pure Talent series (after The Way You Hold Me). Known as “Black America’s Sweetheart,” actor Paige Mills is used to the limelight, but with a nasty divorce underway, all she wants is some time away from the public eye in the comforting presence of her agent and good friend, Andrew Weathers. But Andrew has made himself unavailable, afraid he’ll reveal his true feelings for Paige, or snap and attack her vindictive soon-to-be-ex-husband, Julius Reeves. Though he misses Paige, he’s content to communicate through his assistant—until Paige goes off the grid, hiding out from the paparazzi, the public, and her upcoming projects. Andrew sets out to find her, willing to break all his own rules once he does. Andrew and Paige’s romantic connection derives from a foundation of deep friendship, and their unwavering devotion to each other makes their romance all the more endearing. Their meddling mothers, meanwhile, offer a bit of comic relief. But though Julius’s antics cause a lot of trouble for the couple, the drama is resolved disappointingly quickly in a climax that lacks real fire. Readers will be satisfied, if not wowed. Agent: Sara Camilli, the Sara Camilli Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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