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Offtrack

Esha Patel. Avon, $18.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-00-869393-0

Patel (Trauma Queen) immerses readers in the high-stakes world of Formula 1 racing in this lopsided sports romance. Diana Zahrani has always dreamed of racing F1, but opportunities are very few for women, especially women of color. After overcoming many obstacles, including financial barriers and restrictions in her native Saudi Arabia, where women weren’t allowed to get drivers licences until 2018, Diana is presented with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to race in the 2022 season. She’s plagued with imposter syndrome and loneliness as she tries to differentiate between friend and foe in this aggressive and misogynistic world. Her competitor, Miguel de la Fuente, was born to race, and this may finally be his year to become world champion. When he meets Diana, they both have a feeling of déjà vu—they’ve met before, and the electricity between them hasn’t faded. But can a romance survive the fierce competition of F1? Unfortunately for romance devotees, the love story takes a back seat to the deep exploration of the social and political world of racing. This will most appeal to readers who are already fans of the sport. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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How to Hide in Plain Sight

Emma Noyes. Berkley, $19 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-63902-3

After a three-year-absence, a young woman returns home and is confronted by her demons in this riveting new adult romance from Noyes (Guy’s Girl). Twenty-one-year-old-Eliot Beck returns to her family’s Ontario home for her brother’s wedding. After living in Manhattan for three years, copywriter Eliot believes she can handle being with her large and complicated family for a week without any issues. But within 24 hours of her arrival—and her reunion with her ex-best-friend, Manuel—Eliot’s reasons for leaving Ontario come rushing back to her and her OCD takes a turn for the worse. Eliot has spent years managing her “Worries,” the personification of her compulsive thoughts, which she thinks of as a living creature, and hiding them from the people she loves. Flashbacks tracing her friendship with Manuel from the summer before fifth grade to the summer before college and recounting how the death of her closest sibling, Henry, has shaped her life slowly reveal why she left town in the first place. The complicated dynamics between characters, especially Eliot and Manuel, are credibly developed, and give rise to some truly poignant moments. Noyes places readers firmly inside Eliot’s mind, making it easy to understand and empathize with her struggles. The result is an enlightening and gratifying contemporary. Agent Kimberley Whalen, Whalen Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Love Story

Lindsey Kelk. HarperCollins, $18.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-00-869548-4

Kelk (Love Me Do) explores the fine line between love and hate in this spicy and self-aware contemporary. Sophie Taylor, the daughter of a renowned editor and a famously ruthless literary critic, works as a primary school teacher while hiding from her snobbish parents that she is Este Cox, author of the wildly popular romance novel Butterflies. The only person who knows the truth is her editor, who helps her keep the secret from the publishing house’s hunky creative director, Joe Walsh, during a drunken karaoke night in London. After this near-miss, Sophie is shocked when Joe turns up at her parents’ country home for her father’s weekend-long 60th birthday bash, accompanied by his own father, her dad’s longtime rival. Sophie and Joe’s sparring leads to them sharing a memorable night together, and Sophie even confesses her nom de plume. But their intense, heady romance is derailed when Sophie discovers that Joe has not been entirely honest about his relationship status, a twist that will disappoint some readers. Sophie is a wonderfully genre-savvy heroine who cheekily identifies the tropes playing out in her own life. The family drama, meanwhile, provides ample tension to keep the pages turning. The result is as riveting as it is emotional. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Meet Me in a Mile

Elizabeth Hrib. Afterglow, $12.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-335-57482-4

This cute contemporary from Hrib (Flirting with Disaster) finds architect Lydia McKenzie hoping to impress her workplace crush Jack by agreeing to join the team he’s put together to run the New York City Marathon for charity. What Lydia doesn’t expect is to fall in love with her trainer, Luke Townsend. Despite first impressions, Luke’s much more than a pretty boy gym rat. Growing up underprivileged has led him to volunteer for the Manhattan Youth Center, which helped him in his childhood. Lydia’s firm is now angling for the contract to renovate the center—and Luke’s determined to make her see how important the crumbling facility is to the local kids. His passion and kindness awaken strong feelings in Lydia even as she tries to keep things strictly professional between them and refocus on Jack. When Jack attempts to take credit for her designs, however, she might finally realize what’s been right in front of her all along. Luke’s heart of gold makes him an endearing hero, and readers will have no trouble rooting for Lydia to move on from Jack. Hrib successfully tugs at the heartstrings. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Showmance

Chad Beguelin. Penguin Books, $19 (336p) ISBN 978-0-14-313839-6

Playwright Beguelin’s sparkling debut novel sees Broadway musical writer Noah Adams returning home to rural Plainview, Ill., after his father suffers a heart attack. Noah is suffering, too; Stage of Fools, his adaptation of King Lear, has “joined the list of tragic musicals that opened and closed in one night.” Once home, Noah learns his high school nemesis, Luke Carter, is now working for Noah’s family; making matters worse, Luke’s as attractive as ever. When Noah’s asked to direct a production of Stage of Fools for the local community theater, he thinks he’s hit a new low—especially once the town’s amateur thespians start making changes to the show. But as the superior Noah is humbled, he realizes both that the locals’ tinkering has improved his show, and that he might have misjudged Luke. A cozy hot-air balloon ride with Luke releases some of Noah’s sarcasm and disdain as he comes to see his former bully in a new light. As the men fall in love, the idea of going back to New York becomes heartbreaking. Peppered with witty one-liners and many musical theater references, this charming, zippy romance hits all the right notes. Agent: Mollie Glick and Lola Bellier, CAA. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Promises and Pomegranates

Sav R. Miller. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $18.99 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-1-4642-2901-5

In this dark and disturbing mafia romance—based loosely on the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone—Miller (Sweet Sin) pairs a mob fixer with a mafia princess. Bloodthirsty doctor Kallum Anderson, a fixer for Boston mobster Rafael Ricci, is tough as nails: get in his way, and he’ll literally tear your heart out. After he has a one-night stand with Ricci’s daughter Elena, his determination to possess her leads him to slay her fiancé minutes before their wedding ceremony and marry her himself. Whisking his reluctant but undeniably attracted bride away to his island off the coast of Boston, he hides her from the world—or tries to. It soon becomes apparent that someone is watching their every move via a hidden camera. Kal goes on a rampage to protect Elena—but will it be enough to save them both? Miller keeps the plot moving at a rapid pace and develops some explosive chemistry between her protagonists, but readers should be warned that Kal’s hits are frequent, detailed, and exceedingly gruesome. Not for the faint of heart, this morally ambiguous contemporary will please readers who like their happy endings hard won. Agent: Savannah Greenwell, Two Daisy Media. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Most Wonderful Crime of the Year

Ally Carter. Avon, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-327668-0

Carter (The Blonde Identity) spins a clever romantic mystery with a Christmassy twist. It’s cozy mystery author Maggie Chase’s first Christmas since her husband left her for her best friend, in the wake of which she developed mild agoraphobia. Making things worse, practically every traumatic incident in Maggie’s life has happened around Christmas, including the deaths of both her parents. But her luck might be changing: Maggie’s publisher forces her into attending a Christmas house party in England hosted by Eleanor Ashley, her longtime literary idol. Eleanor’s gathered a who’s who of mystery authors, including Maggie’s nemesis, Ethan Wyatt. Maggie hopes Ethan’s presence will be the only wrinkle in an otherwise delightful holiday—until Eleanor disappears. At first, it seems Eleanor’s playing a game, forcing the authors to compete for the privilege of being her coauthor by following clues to find her. But when a fellow houseguest is poisoned, the stakes become all too real. As Maggie and Ethan join forces to investigate, their animosity slowly turns to love. Carter’s impressive plotting means the final, Agatha Christie–esque reveal is a genuine surprise, and she pulls off the enemies-to-lovers trope beautifully. Romantic suspense fans on the hunt for something festive will want to snap this up. Agent: Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Widow’s Guide to Second Chances

Valerie Pepper. Stafford Lane, $16 trade paper (286p) ISBN 979-8-218-18437-7

Pepper (Karaoke Chemistry) shines in this equally steamy and heartfelt contemporary, the first of her Guided to Love series. After Devon’s firefighter husband, Jason, dies in the line of duty, she bolts from their tiny hometown of Talladega, Ala., reasoning that “staying in one place and opening my heart only brought heartache.” Five years later, now in her 30s, she’s headed home because her late grandmother’s will stipulates that her beautiful historical home will go to Devon only if she resides there for six months. Otherwise, it will be donated to her grandmother’s archnemesis on the town historical society. Devon doesn’t know it, but her grandmother is trying to give fate a nudge, pushing Devon into the arms of local paramedic Aaron Joseph. Aaron’s had a crush on Devon forever, but he and his two firefighter brothers are hometown boys all the way, and Devon is most likely going to run again when the six months are up. Pepper does a fine job of portraying the complex emotions of a widow falling for a new man, and Aaron proves a similarly nuanced and vulnerable hero, having been abandoned by his mother and a string of girlfriends. Romance readers looking for sweet stories of love after loss will be hooked. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 07/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Sunshine and Spice

Aurora Palit. Berkley, $19 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-64018-0

Palit debuts with an addictive grumpy sunshine romance starring a hero whose one-liners are worthy of a modern Mr. Darcy. Canadian Bengali Naomi Kelly grew up in a rural community with a mother who rejected everything Indian and a stepfather with no connection to her heritage. Now an adult, she feels culturally isolated and yearns for Bengali connection. She also desperately needs a contract as the brand consultant for a recently reopened Indian shop in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood. The store belongs to Dev Mukherjee’s very traditional Bengali mother, whose other major project is finding Dev a wife—with no regard for his feelings on the matter. When Dev and Naomi meet, they see a solution to both their problems: Dev will be a cultural cheat sheet for Naomi as she works to impress his mom, while Naomi will keep potential brides away by pretending to be Dev’s girlfriend. The result is an un-put-downable charmer brimming with serious themes of cultural identity, family estrangement, and the struggles of the first generation born to immigrant parents. As sparks fly and real feelings grow, readers will be unable to keep the smiles off their faces. Agent: Jemiscoe Chambers-Black, Andrea Brown Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Eight Nights to Win Her Heart

Miri White. Alcove, $29.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-63910-892-3

White (A Cruise Fling, written as Laura Brown) combines scrumptious descriptions of comfort food, massive winter lights displays, and believable family drama in her entertaining holiday contemporary. Boston preschool teacher Andie Williams has only admired her handsome neighbor, antiques refinisher Leo Dentz, from a distance—until a spilled grocery bag reveals that they’re both getting ready for the first night of Hanukkah. Similarly attracted, Leo proposes they light the candle together, offering to share the meal he’s prepared. Though sparks fly, Andie isn’t looking for a relationship, as her job is ending and her best opportunity is in Ohio. Not fully understanding why she needs to move to teach, Leo puts his foot in his mouth, but he quickly apologizes and agrees to enjoy the brief time they have left before Andie’s move, committing to making their Hanukkah a happy one. Meanwhile, in an emotional subplot, Leo and his brother work to prove to their incredibly stubborn dad that it’s time they ran the family business. White skillfully weaves this real-world family dynamic into the sweet romance. Readers of any faith will find something to enjoy. Agent: Lynnette Novak, Seymour Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2024 | Details & Permalink

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