Bateman's Next "Bachelor," Hall on "Boyfriend Material," James's "Wilde" Debutante, Newcomer Riley's Star Rises | Romance Reviews

The second book in Bateman's popular series is an ­alluring cat-and-mouse tale between two deserving adversaries;  this latest from Davidson is a fast, fun, and uproariously entertaining read; Hall's comedic romance features a not-very-sympathetic hero who tries to be better; another heartfelt, sensuous entry in the Wilde family saga from best-selling author James

redstarBateman, Kate. To Catch an Earl. St. Martin’s Paperbacks. (Bow Street Bachelors, Bk. 2). Jul. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9781250306111. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Alexander Harland, Earl of Melton, has returned from fighting Napoleon with vision loss and a hardened heart. His only untarnished memories are of a masked ball, a stolen kiss in a garden, and a mysterious lady’s perfume. He keeps these thoughts at bay by focusing on his work pursuing thieves and reprobates for the undercover detective agency Bow Street Bachelors. To keep her family safe, Emmy ­Danvers has taken up her father’s mantle as the international jewel thief Nightjar, a role she will rescind once she recovers the crown jewels of France. Her every step places her in Alex’s crosshairs, and after a brief encounter convinces Alex that Emmy is both the notorious criminal and the enigmatic woman from the garden, an opportunity to catch an even greater culprit arises, bringing them back together again unexpectedly. Even as the mutual affection and attraction intensifies their mission, old habits die hard, and the couple’s road to romance is anything but smooth. VERDICT Bateman’s second in the popular “Bow Street Bachelor” series (after This Earl of Mine) is an ­alluring cat-and-mouse tale between two deserving adversaries. For Regency romance fans wishing for thrills in their to-be-read list.—Kellie Tilton, Univ. of Cincinnati, Blue Ash

Davidson, MaryJanice. The Love Scam. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Aug. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9781250053169. pap. $16.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Rake Tarbell has lived through plenty of shenanigans in his life, but waking up in a whole different country with a massive hangover is a new one. On top of being in Venice, which he discovered when he fell into a canal, he has no wallet, no phone, and no key card to the hotel room he finds himself in when he wakes up. Luckily, after being fished out of the water, he runs into Claire Delaney, who knows both exactly who he is and what’s going on. But she’s not there just for fun, she’s in search of a young girl’s father, and Rake is leading her list of suspects. If all that wasn’t enough of a mystery, there’s more to Rake’s current troubles than meets the eye. While the narrative’s moving back and forth in time might leave some readers confused, but those who allow themselves to enjoy the ride will be on a roller coaster of ridiculousness, and loving every second. VERDICT The characters and banter make this latest from Davidson (“Undead” series) a fast, fun, and uproariously entertaining read. There is plenty here to offer romance readers ­looking for something special and different.—Amanda Toth, Lane Libs., Hamilton, OH

Dell, Kari Lynn. Relentless in Texas. ­Sourcebooks Casablanca. (Texas Rodeo, Bk. 6). Jun. 2020. 448p. ISBN 9781492658177. pap. $7.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Gil Sanchez is a washed-up rodeo star who longs for one more chance at glory. When he runs into the sultry Carmelita White Fox, his soul is awoken and he feels ready to live again. Carma comes from a long line of Blackfeet healers, but she does not know how to fix Gil. They both bring their individual traumas to the table and certainly have walls up, but their desire for each other begin to knock down those barriers. Dell delivers a gritty, true-to-life romance that does not shy away from complicated subjects, though the plot drags a bit at times. Her depictions of rodeo life and Blackfeet healing rituals are incredibly detailed. ­VERDICT With so many characters from previous books (Mistletoe in Texas; Fearless in Texas), it is recommended that readers start at the beginning of the series to avoid any confusion. Fans of gritty cowboy romances will thoroughly enjoy.—Jacqueline Rammer, Lakeview Community Lib., Random Lake, WI

Gracie, Anne. Marry in Scarlet. Berkley. (Convenient Marriage, Bk. 4). Jun. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9781984802064. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
The last thing Georgiana “George” ­Rutherford wants is to get married, particularly to her aunt’s recently jilted ­fiancé Hart, the stuffy Duke of Everingham. She’d much rather spend her time wearing breeches, riding horses, and doing other activities that have earned her the label of hoyden. Her meddlesome aunt, however, thinks George would be the perfect match for Hart and conspires to marry them off. Hart’s regressive views of women do not mesh with George’s outspoken opinions, and the two argue constantly, despite their shared affections. A compromising kiss during a society event forces a hasty union, even though George is a most reluctant bride. As a heroine, George is commendable, standing up for her beliefs and remaining devoted to her family. But the duke’s high-­handedness and insistence on “owning” George make their future happy ever after questionable, even when he softens slightly toward the end. VERDICT Fans of  ­multiaward winner Gracie (Marry in Haste), as well as devotees of traditional Regencies (think Georgette Heyer), will appreciate the familiar tomboy-tames-duke story, but readers with modern sensibilities may be turned off by the hero’s old-fashioned ideas about women.—Kathryn Howe, Saint John Free P.L., NB

Hall, Alexis. Boyfriend Material. Sourcebooks Casablanca. Jul. 2020. 432p. ISBN 9781728206141. pap. $14.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Luc O’Donnell is sort of famous. The son of popular rock stars, he can’t do normal things other guys his age do—get drunk, act wild, date bad boys—without popping up in the tabloids. Never mind that he has a perfectly respectable job as a charity fundraiser. Tabloids don’t care about that. So Luc enlists his friends to find him the perfect fake boyfriend, and they deliver Oliver Blackwood. Oliver is a barrister, rather conservative, and also happens to need a fake boyfriend for his parents’ anniversary in a few weeks. As the two try to figure out how a pretend relationship works, their real lives complicate matters. VERDICT Hall (How To Bang a ­Billionaire) delivers a comedic romance with a not-very-sympathetic hero who tries to be better, a sexy barrister, and a gaggle of oddball secondary characters. Fans of Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue may enjoy.—Melanie C. Duncan, Washington Memorial Lib., Macon, GA

James, Eloisa. Say Yes to the Duke. Avon. (Wildes of Lindow Castle, Bk. 5). May 2020. 400p. ISBN 9780062878069. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Considering that wallflower debutante ­Viola Astley can’t attend a ball without wanting to throw up, only a quiet and reserved husband will suit her shy temperament—someone like her parish’s new vicar, the serious and handsome Reverend ­Marlowe. What she doesn’t need is a husband like the opinionated Devin Elstan, Duke of Wynter, whom she overhears insulting her in a library. Their families are in favor of the match, however, and Devin begins to regret his initial judgment when he discovers Viola’s hidden charms. Even when Viola agrees to marry him, Devin’s trust issues cause his jealousy to flare, particularly as Viola and Marlowe work together to stage a production of the story of Noah’s Ark to raise money for the parish. Viola, meanwhile, can’t understand why her husband doesn’t see that she’s completely besotted with him. VERDICT Though it takes some time for the story to warm up in the first act, best-selling James (Three Weeks with Lady X) comes through with another heartfelt, sensuous entry in the Wilde family saga (after Say No to the Duke).—Kathryn Howe, Saint John Free P.L., NB

Lonsdale, Kerry. Side Trip. Lake Union: Amazon. Jul. 2020. 334p. ISBN 9781542016964. pap. $14.95. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
In order to assuage her guilt over her sister’s untimely death, surfer girl Joy Evers departs on a Route 66 road trip to fulfill items on her sister’s bucket list on her way to join her fiancé in New York City. But Joy’s trip takes a surprising turn when she ends up sharing the journey with gorgeous singer-songwriter Dylan Westfield, who is on a similar trek of his own. Through alternating perspectives and a twisting, nonlinear plot, Joy’s and Dylan’s stories unfold as they fall in love and imagine what their futures might hold. Some readers may appreciate the complicated nature of this unconventional romance, but, unfortunately, the jarring final twist undoes a large chunk of the narrative then ties up the plot far too neatly. VERDICT Fans of conventional contemporary romances may be put off by the ­meandering and melodramatic way that the hero and heroine finally get their happily ever after. However, readers of romantic dramas à la Nicholas Sparks will likely be more tolerant of the story’s contortions.—Jenny Kobiela-Mondor, Eckhart P.L., IN

Marsh, Erin. Wild Cowboy Country. Sourcebooks Casablanca. Jul. 2020. 384p. ISBN 9781492670919. pap. $7.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Lacey Montgomery is a wildlife conservationist with a love of wolves, and Clay Stevens is a rancher with a wolf problem. The townsfolk view Clay as a spoiled, big-city jerk who’s going to ruin their small town the same way his father did. Lacey and Clay are at odds as to how to handle the wolves that are going after his animals. After a prank by Clay’s nephew Zach goes awry, Lacey is hurt and Clay comes to the rescue. With Lacey recovering from a concussion, Zach and Clay step up to help her at the zoo. Lacey and Clay discover their differences are only surface deep. This is a slow-burn romance without much internal conflict. Once Lacey and Clay discover and act on their feelings, there’s not much sizzle. VERDICT Though the story features an interesting premise and a competent narrative, the central romance fails to engage readers fully.—Claire Brown, Red Deer P.L., Alberta, Canada

Miller, Renee Ann. Never Conspire with a Sinful Baron. Zebra: Kensington. (Infamous Lords, Bk. 4). May 2020. 336p. ISBN 9781420150032. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
With a crumbling estate and a dwindling fortune as his inheritance, Lord Elliot ­Havenford, Baron Ralston, is in dire need of funds. He intends to marry a rich ­heiress, quickly—preferably his cousin’s lovely friend Nina Trent. Elliot has always been intrigued by Nina, who’s intelligent, beautiful, and an accomplished artist. Nina, meanwhile, is pressured by her family to marry the wealthy Duke of Fernbridge, who is at best a safe choice after her recent disastrous engagement. Elliot knows the duke is far too dull for Nina, so he comes up with a scheme to win her hand secretly: he’ll pretend to court her to attract the attention of the notoriously competitive duke. The plan backfires when the duke actually pursues Nina, even though she’s now attached to the passionate, lively Elliot. Verdict Miller (Never Kiss a Notorious Marquess) continues her “Infamous Lords” series with a charming entry featuring a surprisingly sweet hero engaging in a romantic rivalry to win a most worthy heroine.—Kathryn Howe, Saint John Free P.L., NB

Riley, Vanessa. A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby. Kensington. (Rogues & Remarkable Women, Bk. 1). Jul. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9781420152234. pap. $15.95. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
DEBUT West Indian heiress Patience ­Jordan never expected to be welcomed into her husband’s English family with open arms. But being widowed, taken from her baby, and thrown into Bedlam by her husband’s dastardly uncle was beyond her worst imaginings. Luckily, the Widow’s Grace, an organization that helps women in distress, breaks her out of the madhouse and sets her up as her own baby’s nanny. The boy’s new guardian, the wounded military hero Busick Strathmore, has never met Patience and doesn’t suspect she’s really his ward’s mother. Like Patience, he also mistrusts the villainous uncle and goes to great lengths to guard the house in order to protect the baby. Working together to ensure the child’s safety, the two begin to fall in love. Though the plot touches on serious subjects, the characters’ quirky behavior keeps the overall tone light: Patience dresses up as a male servant, Strathmore sets a military-like schedule for the baby, etc. Verdict There’s enough camp in this story to house an army, but debuter ­Riley delivers a fine first outing in what looks to be a promising new series, welcoming a determined West Indian heroine to the Regency subgenre.—Kathryn Howe, Saint John Free P.L., NB 

Shupe, Joanna. The Devil of Downtown. Avon. (Uptown Girls, Bk. 3). Jul. 2020. 384p. ISBN 9780062906854. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Ruthless Jack Mulligan runs his downtown New York criminal empire with an iron fist. Justine Greene, daughter of a wealthy Uptown family, is passionate about her own causes, namely, guaranteeing safe working conditions and decent pay for those in her community. When she shows up at his office unannounced to request help finding a client’s worthless husband, Jack is surprised to feel both sympathy and admiration for her mission. But then her gumption puts her in close proximity to Jack’s own ventures—and in his debt. And when he should be warding off an encroaching rival, he finds himself spending time with Justine, offering advice and resources to help her achieve her aims. For her part, Justine fears her success is false and that securing ill-gotten funds from Jack crosses an ethical line, so she breaks off the relationship, in fear of losing more than just her heart. VERDICT Shupe (A Scandalous Deal) concludes the stunning Gilded Age New York–set “Uptown Girls” trilogy with a bang, bringing together a least-likely love match with explosive results. While readers can start with this book, they’ll get the full impact of the Greene sisters’ saga by beginning with The Rogue of Fifth Avenue.—Kellie Tilton, Univ. of Cincinnati, Blue Ash

Wynters, Paris. Issued. Tule. (Navy SEALs of Little Creek, Bk. 1). Jun. 2020. 322p. ebk. ISBN 9781951786557. $3.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Jim Stephens is a navy SEAL, whose latest mission is put on hold as he recovers from devastating injuries. When the Navy introduces an arranged-marriage program in hopes of decreasing the number of divorces within its ranks, Jim agrees to take part. His entire life is the SEALs and he will do whatever it takes to stay. Jim could never have imagined the woman they choose to be his wife. Taya Maverick is a motorcycle-riding rebel who is desperate to escape her past. She agrees to the marriage program to be around the protection of SEALS all day, never thinking she would get paired with a stoic—albeit sexy—man. Sparks fly between the two, and pretty soon the sham marriage starts to feel real. VERDICT With a captivating—although at times unbelievable—plot, this is a delightful, escapist book for fans of the arranged marriage trope.—Jacqueline Rammer, Lakeview Community Lib., ­Random Lake, WI

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