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A Highlander in a Pickup

Laura Trentham. St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-31503-8

The sexy second contemporary romance in Trentham’s Highland, Georgia, series (after A Highlander Walks into a Bar) winningly blends small-town charm with heat. Feisty dance instructor Anna Maitland has enough on her plate, but she agrees to assume leadership of the town’s annual festival, the Highland Games, as a favor for a friend. Then Iain Connors, a dishy but taciturn, kilt-wearing veteran of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, arrives from Scotland having been offered the same gig. Sparks immediately fly between them as they fight over who’s responsible for the event. Fiercely independent Anna, whose demanding mother and undependable father left her with trust issues, doesn’t want to give up control, while Iain hopes the job will free him from his father’s expectations that he will take over as groundskeeper of their Highland estate. Trentham handles the thorny conflicts between parents’ wishes and their children’s needs with sensitivity, carrying this theme through to a touching subplot about Anna’s talented dance student Gabby, whose fundamentalist father opposes her performances. Though the plot takes some unlikely turns, the smoldering attraction between Iain and Anna is deliciously drawn. Romance lovers will savor Trentham’s witty, bighearted tale. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Advanced Physical Chemistry

Susannah Nix. Haver Street, $14.99 trade paper (274p) ISBN 978-0-9990948-6-0

Nix (Rising Star) offers a sweet and often hilarious tale of a heartbroken heroine who makes an impressive rebound. Plus-sized scientist and fan fiction enthusiast Penny Popplestone is at a knitting group meeting in a café when her boyfriend, Kenneth, saunters in with another woman. It’s bad enough that she’s being cheated on, but she’s also mortified that the hottest barista in the shop is witnessing it. Turns out Hottie Barista, aka Caleb Mayhew, a soon-to-be medical student, has had his eye on Penny for a while. Knowing Caleb will soon leave town for school, Penny, who has dealt with a long string of terrible boyfriends, sets out to have her first no-strings-attached affair. Nix’s pacing is pitch-perfect, and a cast of endearing secondary characters, particularly Penny’s supportive friend Olivia, add depth and appeal. Penny is a refreshing heroine with a messy personal life, but an inspiring career. Readers will eagerly devour Nix’s smart and sexy story. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Out of Practice

Carsen Taite. Bold Strokes, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-63555-359-8

Taite (It Should Be a Crime) combines legal and relationship drama to create this realistic and deeply enjoyable lesbian romance. After Abby Keane’s partners at her law firm force the cynical workaholic to take a vacation, she books a stay at a Mexican resort. Wedding blogger Roxanne Daly is headed to the same resort on assignment from Best Day Ever magazine, and on the way back to her seat on the flight there, she trips and falls into Abby’s lap. When the women realize they’re headed to the same place, their explosive chemistry turns into a several-day fling. But when both return to Austin, Tex., Roxanne’s new TV job pits her against one of Abby’s clients, a childhood friend fighting to save a wedding-dress empire. The reliably engaging Taite neatly balances romance and red-hot passion with a plausible legal story line, well-drawn characters, and pitch-perfect pacing that culminates in the requisite heartfelt happily-ever-after. Taite will land new fans with this winning tale. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Undercover Bromance

Lyssa Kay Adams. Berkley, $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-9848-0611-6

Adams follows The Bromance Book Club with this cute comedic twist on the romantic suspense genre. Charming Braden Mack is the de facto leader of his all-male romance book club, remarkably comprising the most eligible, athletic, and successful men in Nashville, who hope to learn how to be “better men, better lovers, [and] better husbands” from the genre. Despite Mack’s natural charm and romance novel training, he’s off his game when it comes to pastry chef Liv Papandreas, whose sister, Thea, is married to another book club member. Prickly, distrustful Liv isn’t looking for a boyfriend, but when her celebrity chef boss, Royce, fires her for calling him out as a sexual predator, she accepts Braden’s and the book club’s help to confront and expose him for his crimes. The book club hatches a plan, drawing inspiration from the romantic suspense novel they’re reading, though series fans may be disappointed that, unlike in the first volume, no excerpts from the novel within a novel appear. Instead Adams weaves romantic suspense tropes into her contemporary rom-com to excellent effect. Strong characterization, humor, and a genuine connection between Liv and Mack make this one a keeper. Agent: Tara Gelsomino, One Track Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Duke Too Far

Jane Ashford. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-6344-7

An impoverished duke becomes enamored of one of his sister’s friends in the charming fourth installment to Ashford’s Regency-set Way to a Lord’s Heart series (after How to Cross a Marquess). Shortly before Ada Grandison’s school friend Delia Rathbone died in an accident, she told Ada that she had uncovered a secret that “would change everything” for the struggling Rathbone family. Ada believes that a note she found in Delia’s room after her death holds clues to the secret and is determined to visit Alberdene, the Rathbone family home, to uncover the secret. Together with three school friends and her Aunt Julia, Ada travels to Alberdene, where she meets Delia’s brother, Peter Rathbone, Duke of Compton. Peter and Ada work together to uncover Delia’s secret, searching for clues throughout Alberdene, which is in disrepair as a consequence of Peter’s reduced circumstances. Though the couple are instantly drawn to one another, Peter believes that their relationship cannot evolve past a few stolen kisses because he has nothing to offer her. Ashford draws in readers with complex characters, subtle romance, and all the sparkling wit and flirtatious banter of a Georgette Heyer novel. Series fans will be delighted. Agent: Jennifer Weltz, Jean V. Naggar Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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An Heiress to Remember

Maya Rodale. Avon, $7.99 mass market (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-283884-1

Rodale’s jam-packed third Gilded Age Girls Club romance (following Duchess by Design) finds rival department store owners rekindling their relationship even as they compete for success in late-19th-century New York City. Twenty-year-old Beatrice Goodwin, heiress to the celebrated Goodwin’s Emporium, gives up her lover, Wes Dalton, a midlevel store employee, to marry an English duke. Sixteen years later, a divorced Beatrice returns to New York with money and a new appreciation for independence. In her absence, her father’s store has fallen out of fashion, while Wes, heartbroken and seeking revenge, has built his own empire, the successful Dalton’s Department Store, just across the street. Beatrice’s return proves an unwelcome distraction for business-minded Wes, especially as Beatrice determines to restore Goodwin’s to glory. While Beatrice successfully updates Goodwin’s to be more accommodating of the modern woman by adding, among other things, public bathrooms and child care, her competitive spark with Wes turns to passion, and the pair become lovers once more. This plot-driven story occasionally sacrifices characterization to keep up a brisk pace, but historically minded readers will appreciate Rodale’s eye for detail and illuminating depiction of the changing role of women in Gilded Age society. Series fans will not be disappointed. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Cowboy to Remember

Rebekah Weatherspoon. Dafina, $7.99 mass market (358p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2540-0

With the fun, sexy launch of the promising Cowboys of California series, Weatherspoon (the Loose Ends series) delivers a second chance at love story with depth and authenticity. TV chef Evie Buchanan fled Charming, Calif., for New York City after the death of her Nana, her last remaining biological relative. Ten years later, after a rival chef pushes Evie down the stairs, she wakes with amnesia and returns home to Charming to recover. Rancher Zach Pleasant, Evie’s estranged best friend and childhood crush, failed a grieving Evie when she needed him most. But with Evie’s memory of his betrayal gone, he feels like he finally has a chance to make up for his mistake. Weatherspoon keeps Evie’s amnesia from falling into the realm of melodrama, and the tentative but passionate relationship between Evie and Zach is realistic despite the over-the-top trope bringing them together. The almost entirely black cast is rendered with care and cultural specificity, making for a refreshing entry into the cowboy romance genre. This fabulous love story will delight readers. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Masked Baron

Anneka R. Walker. Covenant Communications, $15.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-5244-1223-4

Romance, suspense, and the supernatural effectively intertwine in this captivating Regency from Walker (Love in Disguise), which pairs an inquisitive beauty with a reclusive baron. Andalin Durante’s life is turned upside down when her poor tradesman father sends her to live with the Dark Rider, an infamous baron-turned-highwayman. Heirless, the Dark Rider, Lord Ellison (“Ellis”) Cadogen, intends to make Andalin his ward, planning for her to eventually inherit his manor, but is taken by her unexpected beauty. For her part, Andalin’s initial fear of Ellis is soon allayed as she finds him surprisingly kind and frequently absent on nightly rides through the Black Forest in Corbridge, England. Ellis piques Andalin’s curiosity and she spends her time alone in the manor searching for clues to his past, discovering that Ellis is on a quest to avenge the death of his parents and the disappearance of his twin sister 10 years earlier, both of which are somehow connected to a woman called Sephira, the witch of Baltar. The engrossing central mystery and electric chemistry between the spirited characters keep the pages turning. This rousing romance is sure to win Walker new readers. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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If I Never Met You

Mhairi McFarlane. Morrow, $15.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-295850-1

McFarlane (Don’t You Forget About Me) brings a welcome dose of reality to the fake office romance trope with flawed, honest, but still endearing protagonists. After Laurie’s boyfriend of 18 years, Dan, abruptly leaves her and then confesses that he and his new girlfriend are expecting a child, Laurie dreads having to see him every day at the law firm where they both work. When Laurie gets stuck in an elevator with Jamie Carter, a notorious playboy who also works at the firm, they realize they can help each other: Jamie wants a promotion and needs to impress the partners by appearing to have grown out of his womanizing ways; Laurie wants to quell the office gossip. They agree to fake a relationship to achieve both goals, but as the inevitable real feelings bubble up between them, Laurie wonders if her heart is too broken to take a chance on new love. McFarlane’s arch humor and earnest characters make this familiar plot feel fresh, fun, and genuinely moving. This is a delightful rom-com full of sass, sparkle, and heart. Agent: Doug Kean, Gunn Media. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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His Final Girl

Brooklyn Ann. R. R. Bowker, $8.50 trade paper (178p) ISBN 978-1-948029-88-9

Ann (the Brides of Prophecy series) playfully combines romance tropes with the campy horror beats of ’80s slasher movies in the fun first novel in her B Mine series. Farm girl Linnea Langenkamp and computer nerd Wes Carpenter meet at summer camp before their senior year of high school sometime in the 1980s. Their instant mutual attraction develops into love with very few stumbling blocks, save for the cartoonish jocks and cheerleaders who bully them (“The Neanderthal grinned. ‘I like punching nerds.’ ”). Then a storm strikes, cutting the power and knocking out the bridge that connects the campsite to the mainland. When one of the campers turns up dead, Wes and Linnea discover that the camp abuts an abandoned mine with a tragic history. With a masked killer on the loose and bodies piling up, Wes and Linnea attempt to keep their peers alive, aided by their Native American camp counselor, who has little to do beyond offer sage wisdom to the white teens. Despite the danger, the couple still find time for tender sex scenes that will gratify romance readers, but the emotional moments are hampered by two-dimensional characterization. Still, this quick, genre-bending story will please New Adult romance fans. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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