Fresh Starts, New Beginnings | Romance Reviews, April 15, 2018

Just as spring is a time of beginnings, themes of hope and fresh starts are popular in the romance genre. Whether it’s a heroine running from her past toward a new life, a couple reunited after years apart, or an individual turned in an unexpected direction, the concept that change is possible, with the dream of better things to come, is irresistible—and the inherent promise of the season.

The Promise of Spring Despite rain, mudslides, and avalanches in the West, deadly storms across the South and Midwest, and four Nor’easters in the East, spring really did ­arrive on schedule, and now that it’s here, it’s finally beginning to show, not only in nature but the world of romance as well. Just as spring is a time of beginnings, themes of hope and fresh starts are popular in the romance genre. Whether it’s a heroine running from her past toward a new life, a couple reunited after years apart, or an individual turned in an unexpected direction, the concept that change is possible, with the dream of better things to come, is irresistible—and the inherent promise of the season.

New Beginnings

redstarBalogh, Mary. Someone To Care. Jove. (Westcott, Bk. 4). May 2018. 384p. ISBN 9780399586088. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780399586095. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Fourteen years ago, Viola and Marcel fell deeply in love, but Viola was married (or so she thought), a young mother of three, and not about to have an affair—so she sent him away. Years later, thanks to a broken carriage axel, they meet by chance at a small country inn. Now both free and in vastly changed circumstances, they give in to their feelings and “run away” together—if only temporarily. But then children and assorted family members track them down, and suddenly their plans take an entirely different course. Personal, social, and familial expectations; trust and communication; and responsibility are but a few of the complex issues at the heart of this family-rich romance that features exquisite character development, tender sensuality, and a truly rewarding love story. VERDICT Two inwardly lonely people regain the love they thought they’d lost in a story that is searing in its insight, as comforting as a hug, and a brilliant addition to this series. Another gem from a master of the art. Balogh (Someone To Wed) lives in Canada.

Bell, Lenora. What a Difference a Duke Makes. Avon. (School for Dukes, Bk. 1). Apr. 2018. 368p. ISBN 9780062692481. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062692429. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Orphaned and raised in a charity school, Mari Perkins is desperate to find work as a governess. When she overhears that Edgar Rochester, Duke of Banksford, is looking for someone to tend to his nine-year-old twins—never mind that he’s lost four governesses in the last two months—Mari heads for his townhouse in Grosvenor Square. Despite reservations—Mari is too small, too cheerful, and far too pretty—Edgar agrees to give her a try and is amazed when she succeeds, simply enchanting the children. The problem is that she’s beginning to enchant him, too, and that just won’t do. An energetic and outspoken heroine, a gruff, physically imposing hero, and inventive twins who quickly steal one’s heart drive the plot of this hard-to-put-down romp. Steam engine and railway details are a fascinating bonus. VERDICT Sassy dialog, breathtaking chemistry, and a healthy dollop of hilarity result in a Mary Poppins–like success that takes the classic governess tale to a new level. Great fun! Bell (Blame It on the Duke) lives in Portland, OR.

Brown, Carolyn. Cowboy Bold. Forever: Grand Central. (Longhorn Canyon, Bk. 1). Jun. 2018. 336p. ISBN 9781538744864. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781538744871. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

After taking a bittersweet three years off to care for her father and then selling the family farm and settling the estate, Retta Palmer is almost ready to go back to her high-­powered, Dallas-based banking career. She just needs a job for a few weeks during the summer to tide her over—and being a counselor at Cade Maguire’s ranch camp for inner-city kids is perfect. Still, the fierce attraction that sparks between them is not quite so perfect, especially since Retta is not planning to stay. Naturally, fate has plans of its own. A heroine who should listen to her heart and a hero who needs to let go of the past finally get things right in a story enlivened by a superb cast of vividly rendered, sometimes interfering characters and filled with plenty of Western flavor. VERDICT Lighthearted banter, heart-tugging emotion, and a good-natured Sooner/Longhorn football rivalry make this a delightful romance and terrific launch for the new series. Brown (The Sometimes Sisters) lives in Davis, OK. [More on the prolific Brown below.]

Carr, Robyn. The Family Gathering. Mira: Harlequin. (Sullivan’s Crossing). Apr. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9780778330769. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488023552. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

At loose ends after leaving the army and then going walkabout for a month in Australia, Dakota Jones heads for Colorado to check in with his sister and brother before deciding on his next move. He doesn’t intend to stay long, but the long-neglected family connections, welcoming townsfolk, and stunning surroundings—to say nothing of his interest in bartender Sid Shandon, the one woman in town who won’t give him a chance—have him rethinking his plans. A footloose hero finds a place to put down roots and a brilliant heroine learns to trust again in this relationship-centered story that adds a plethora of old and new characters (Sister Mary Jacob is priceless) to the mix. VERDICT A beautifully crafted plot with multiple story lines, relatable characters, and a setting that makes readers want to head for the Rockies add up to another solid title. Like many of Carr’s books, it will appeal to romance and women’s fiction fans alike. Carr (Any Day Now) lives in Henderson, NV. [See Prepub Alert, 10/22/17.]

redstarDodd, Christina. Dead Girl Running. HQN: Harlequin. (Cape Charade, Bk. 1). Apr. 2018. 368p. ISBN 9781335144362. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488079030. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

Competent, observant, and battle-hardened after serving in the Middle East, army veteran Kellen Adams has returned to the States and is settling into a job as assistant manager at Yearning Sands, an upscale, rather isolated resort on Washington’s Pacific Coast. It is safe, remote, and just what she wanted—until the mutilated remains of the former hotel manager are discovered. Now Kellen is drawn into a bizarre smuggling mystery and the hunt for the deadly “Librarian,” a killer who could be almost anyone—even vaguely familiar Max Di Luca. But Kellen has been living a lie, and with no memory of how she got a gunshot scar on her forehead, she can’t help but wonder if the past has tracked her down. Skillful flashbacks gradually reveal the nagging mysteries in Kellen’s clouded history as this haunted heroine faces her fears. A cameo by Sheriff Kateri ­Kwinault from Dodd’s “Virtue Falls” books is sure to please fans and highlight the link between these two series. VERDICT Complex, intense, and engrossing, this riveting romantic thriller has a chilling gothic touch and just enough red herrings and twists to keep readers on edge. Dodd (The Woman Who Couldn’t Scream) lives in Washington State. [Previewed in Joyce Sparrow’s “Love Is All Around,” LJ 10/15/17.]

Gracie, Anne. Marry in Scandal. Jove. (Marriage of Convenience, Bk. 2). Apr. 2018. 336p. ISBN 9780425283820. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698411647. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

After being kidnapped, Lady Lily Ruther­ford escapes her abductors in the middle of a storm on the way to Scotland and is rescued by Edward Galbraith, her brother’s friend and a noted rake. Now she finds herself in deeper trouble still—the scandal and ruin kind—and marriage is the only option. Attraction simmers between them from their first kiss, but Lily and Ned are each guarding painful secrets that must be dealt with before their “convenient marriage” can ­become the real thing. VERDICT Sly wit and heart-melting passion are front and center in a lively, insightful Regency romance from an author who knows the period inside and out and displays it gloriously. Gracie (Marry in Haste) lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Hunter, Madeline. A Devil of a Duke. Zebra: Kensington. (Decadent Dukes Society, Bk. 2). May 2018. 304p. ISBN 9781420143928. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781420143935. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Although born into a family of high-class thieves and trained in the art, Amanda ­Waverly rejects it all and has taken a position as a female secretary (unusual for the times) to an eccentric, outspoken widow. But her past returns with a vengeance when her mother is kidnapped and the only hope is for Amanda to steal some valuable artifacts the perpetrator wants. With little choice, Amanda agrees, but one of her ploys attracts the attention of Gabriel St. James, Duke of Langford. Now the situation becomes romantic, a lot more difficult, and potentially dangerous. VERDICT With a delectable blend of clever ripostes, scorching sensuality, and masterly plotting, Hunter’s latest sees the most infamous of the Decadent Dukes fall head over heels in a satisfying romantic adventure. Hunter (The Most Dangerous Duke in London) lives in Pittsburgh.

Jackson, Lisa & Nancy Bush. One Last Breath. Zebra: Kensington. May 2018. 480p. ISBN 9781420136135. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781420136142. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

A masked man forces his way into Rory ­Abernathy Bastian’s hotel room and threatens her and her unborn baby right before she walks down the aisle to repeat her vows with her husband, Liam. Rory defends herself with a paring knife, panics, and flees—just as a sniper takes aim at the wedding crowd and everything erupts into bloody violence. Five years later, she has reinvented herself as Heather Johnson and carved out a life for herself and her daughter in remote Point Roberts, WA, still fearing she’s the target of a killer. But Liam is on her trail, and just when they finally connect, the murders begin again. VERDICT Combining their considerable talents, sisters Jackson and Bush have penned a chilling thriller with enough false leads to keep readers enthralled to the finish. Jackson and Bush (Wicked Ways) write books independently, too. They live in Lake ­Oswego, OR.

Jeffries, Sabrina. The Secret of Flirting. Pocket: S. & S. (Sinful Suitors, Bk. 5). Apr. 2018. 398p. ISBN 9781501144486. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781501144493. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Years ago, Monique Servais’s grandmother Princess Solange was banished by her royal family for marrying without their consent. Now, after decades with no contact, they need a favor. The reclusive Princess Aurore of Chanay is gravely ill, and if Monique, who could almost be Aurore’s twin, agrees to pose as the princess during some important political negotiations, Monique’s grandmother who raised her and is now struggling with dementia will be welcomed back into the family. With many doubts but little choice, Monique soon finds herself in the crosshairs of spymaster Gregory Vyse, Baron of Fulkham, who suspects her ruse and is determined to get to the bottom of the deception. Political skullduggery, betrayal, and an attempted assassination keep the pace swift and the tension rising, while the sizzle that arcs between Monique and Gregory keeps the romance firmly on track. VERDICT Stinging wordplay, well-conceived characters, and an ingenious plot result in a story that adds another winner to Jeffries’s popular series. Jeffries (The Pleasures of Passion) lives in Cary, NC. [Previewed in Joyce Sparrow’s “Love Is All Around,” LJ 10/15/17.]

Kyle, Celia. Wolf’s Mate. Forever: Grand Central. (Shifter Rogues, Bk. 1). Apr. 2018. 368p. ISBN 9781538744529. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781538744512. PARANORMAL ROMANCE

CPA and cougar-shifter Abby Carter is furious and terrified when she discovers that the company she’s auditing has been secretly sending money to Unified Humanity, a ruthless antishifter organization. She downloads the evidence and prepares to bolt. But when the company head and his goon squad come striding through her door, she knows it’s too late—until a black-clad stranger comes to the rescue, leaving Abby to grab her tablet and run. Declan Reed, wolf-shifter and member of Shifter Operations Command Team One, has Abby in his sights, and with his group of lethal ­renegade shifters determined to track her down, he can only do so much to keep her safe. Prickly interactions among the shifter team and between Abby and Delan keep things on edge in this thriller that also explores the duality conflicts that shifters face as their inner predators clash with their outward human natures. VERDICT Nonstop action, lots of explicit sex, and smart banter add snap to this rough-and-tumble adventure that nicely launches this series. Kyle (Having Her Enemy’s Secret Shifter Baby) lives in central Florida.

MacGregor, Janna. The Luck of the Bride. St. Martin’s Paperbacks. (Cavensham Heiresses, Bk. 3). May 2018. 384p. ISBN 9781250116161. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

At her wits end when her pleas for the necessary funds to support her estate go unanswered, March Lawson, who’s been caring for her younger siblings since the death of their parents eight years ago, begins making withdrawals from her own trust by forging the signature of the ogre in charge of it, whom she’s never met. ­Michael Cavensham, Marquis of ­McCalpin, is not quite the villain March believes him to be, and when he learns of her “embezzlement” and the dire straits, he petitions for guardianship and sweeps the siblings off to London for the Season and into the midst of his welcoming family. Passion wars with pride and practicality as a determined heroine who is a genius with numbers and a responsible yet mathematically challenged hero deal with the threat of scandal and vicious forces that would to anything to bring March down and destroy their newfound happiness. VERDICT Brimming with family, hope, and tender sensuality, this shrewdly plotted, gently paced romance is especially satisfying. MacGregor (The Bride Who Got Lucky) lives in Kansas City, MO.

Maxwell, Cathy. A Match Made in Bed. Avon. (Spinster Heiresses, Bk. 2). May 2018. 370p. ISBN 9780062655769. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062655776. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Years ago, the Holwells brought ruin onto the Yorks, and the families are still feuding. Now Soren York, Earl of Dewsberry, is determined to restore his family’s fortunes, but for that he needs money. Wealthy ­Cassandra Holwell, a woman he’d known as a young girl and whose land marches with his, is the ideal choice, but Cass resists him at every turn. Then fate takes a hand, and they are caught in an innocent but totally compromising situation. Soren nobly proposes. Cass’s options are ruin or her father’s fury. An independent bluestocking and an honorable peer find that marriage is more challenging—and ultimately rewarding—than either had imagined. VERDICT Sparkling badinage, unforeseen plot twists, and tender passion make this engaging romance one to savor. Maxwell (If Ever I Should Love You) lives in Virginia.

redstarQuick, Amanda. The Other Lady Vanishes. Berkley. May 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780399585326. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399585333. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

On the run after a narrow escape from an exclusive mental sanitarium (and the villains who put her there), Adelaide Blake takes refuge in tiny Burning Cove, a town along the California coast that is becoming trendy with the Hollywood set. Her job at the local tearoom is a good match for her herbalist skills, and after two months she is still wary but beginning to settle into a routine. She has even attracted the interest of businessman Jake Truett, the widower who is renting the sea cliff cottage near hers. But her pursuers are hot on her trail, and when a popular psychic predicts a death and then is found murdered, Adelaide and Jake are swept up in a web of lies that has Adelaide at its core. Red herrings and multiple ­baddies stir the plot in a fun-filled romp that has ties to Quick’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much. VERDICT With humorous repartee, a diabolical plot, and characters that make the 1930s spring to life, Quick’s lively story of murder, intrigue, and romance keeps its secrets until the very end. Quick (’Til Death Do Us Part) also writes as Jayne Ann Krentz and Jayne Castle; she lives in Seattle. [See Prepub Alert 11/21/17.]

Ross, JoAnn. Herons Landing. HQN: Harlequin. (Honeymoon Harbor, Bk. 1). May 2018. 416p. ISBN 9781335949356. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488079047. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Two years after his wife, Zoe, was killed during a tour of duty in Afghanistan, contractor Seth Harper is still grieving. He’s thrown himself into the family renovation and remodeling business, and his social life is nonexistent—he knows he’ll never marry again. Then hotel concierge Brianna Mannion, a woman he’d grown up with and Zoe’s best friend, returns to Honeymoon Harbor with plans to turn Herons Landing, an old Victorian mansion with a ghostly past, into a bed-and-breakfast—and the stage is set for a relationship Seth is determined to ignore. The connection between a deeply conflicted man slowly coming to terms with loss and the woman who under­stands him adds strength and intensity to a perceptive story that is more than the average friends-into-lovers romance. Vivid, detailed descriptions, real-life issues that resonate, a pair of perfect-for-each-other protagonists, and a wealth of colorful townsfolk form an emotionally compelling story in Ross’s capable hands. VERDICT An excellent start to a promising community series with a stunning Olympic Coast setting. Ross (Long Road Home) lives in the Pacific Northwest.

So Many Choices

Curran, Kitty & Larissa Zageris. My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel. Quirk. Apr. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9781683690139. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683690146. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

DEBUT Harking back to those fun-filled, choose-your-own-adventure stories beloved of kids and teens, this lighthearted book takes the reader—in this case, you, a 28-year-old penniless Regency-era heroine in search of a match—on any number of romantic escapades on her way to the requisite happy ending. Characters, settings, and situations are typical of the genre but pushed to the limit (e.g., featuring orphans, werewolves, double-dealings, Egyptian antiquities). The second-person point of view, unusual and disconcerting at first but common to this format, works as intended. ­Although not an original concept, this is nicely written and inventively done. Even the instructions are fun to read. VERDICT This hilarious, often silly, and over-the-top spoof of romance novels is in no way your typical historical romance, but the ­myriad possibilities, fast tempo, and tongue-­ in-cheek approach make it a most entertaining if somewhat page-flipping experience. Debut authors Curran and Zageris, ­who must have had a ball writing this, live in Chicago.

Second Time Around

Delinsky, Barbara. Father of the Bride. Severn House. May 2018. 256p. ISBN 9780727887719. $28.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

A couple torn apart by parental disapproval and estranged for 25 years rethink their relationship when their daughter insists that her father walks her down the aisle. This emotionally gripping story displays ­Delinsky’s exceptional character development and still rings true despite its having been first published by Harlequin Romance in 1991 as a novella in the collection With This Ring.

Carolyn Brown Celebrates a Milestone

With the publication of Cowboy Bold (see review above), romance and women’s fiction author Carolyn Brown released the 90th book of her New York Times and USA Today best-selling career. From her first title in 1999 (Love Is, Avalon) to the present, Brown has spun an array of heartwarming, relationship-centered tales, rich with quirky characters (many of them cowboys), lively wit, and small-town charm. Born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma, Brown lives in Davis, OK, with her husband of nearly 50 years.

Crimson Romance To Cease Publication

On March 12, 2018, Crimson Romance, the digital imprint acquired by Simon & Schuster as part of its purchase of Adams Media in 2016, announced on Twitter that it was closing its doors. The news came as a surprise to many. The Racial Diversity Study conducted by the Ripped Bodice in 2017 (ow.ly/kgt630jczpd) listed Crimson as a major publisher of romances by authors of color, making its shutdown especially ­unfortunate.

2018 Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year

Every year since 1995, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) has honored “a librarian who demonstrates outstanding support of romance authors and the romance genre.” This year’s Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year Award goes to Fran Cassano, Adult Reference, Romance and Genre Fiction, North Bellmore Public Library, NY. It will be presented at the Golden Hearts Award Luncheon on Thursday, July 19, at the organization’s annual conference (www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=550).

Librarians’ Day at RWA

In conjunction with its annual meeting, RWA hosts Librarians’ Day, an event that targets local librarians and booksellers. This year it will take place on Saturday, July 21, at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. The program kicks off at 8 a.m. with “Swipe Right: What Are You Reading Tonight,” a contemporary readers’ advisory presentation by librarians Jessi ­Barrientos, Amy Hall, and Jennifer ­Hendzlik. Next up is “The Importance of Being Humorous,” a lively discussion of humor in romance by authors Carolyn Brown, Tessa Dare, Angie Fox, Kristan Higgins, Jenn MacKinlay, and Mia Sosa; a timely panel on “Diversity in Your Romance Library Collection and Programs” (participants TBD); and the interactive “Romance Bingo,” hosted by librarians Amy Alessio, Robin Bradford, and Susan Gibberman. There will be a meet and greet for librarians and authors and a luncheon with keynote speaker Sonali Dev, a best-selling author of Bollywood-style romances. At $25, this is a bargain for professionals in the Denver area. For more information and to register, go to www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=795.

RWA’s Academic Research Grant

Each year, RWA solicits proposals from scholars who are doing research on various aspects of popular romance fiction. The 2018 grant goes to Margo Hendricks, Professor Emerita, University of California Santa Cruz, to carry out field research for her book project, Heliodorus’ Daughters: Women of Color and the Romance Industry, which explores the relationship between women of color and the romance genre.

Kristin Ramsdell is Librarian Emerita, California State University, East Bay. She is the author of the romance section of What Do I Read Next? A Reader’s Guide to Current Genre Fiction (Gale, annual) and Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre. 2d ed. (Libraries Unlimited, 2012)

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