Romance Revs Up, with Rom-Coms, Cozy Christmas Tales, and Paranormal Twists | Romance, Sept. 2019

Aiken's new series will satisfy readers looking for a fantasy romance that doesn’t take ­itself too seriously; peril and intrigue keep the pages turning in this satisfying Regency romance; our heroine’s wit, humor, and determination to stay the course shines through in this breezy story; DeLuca turns in an intelligent, sexy, and charming debut romance that is sure to resonate; this affectionate, cross-continent holiday romance is perfect for cozying up with on a cold winter’s night

Aiken, G.A. The Blacksmith Queen. Kensington. (Scarred Earth Saga, Bk. 1). Sept. 2019. 352p. ISBN 9781496721204. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781496721228. FANTASY ROMANCE
In the Land of the Black Hills, the Old King has died, and each of his sons is ruthlessly battling for the throne. The Witches of Amhuinn, however, foresee a queen ruling the kingdom, not a king. Keeley Smythe is a renowned blacksmith who typically delights in the business that war brings to her forges. Yet this time, she will wield the weapons instead of making them, as it’s revealed that her younger sister, Beatrix, is the one prophesied to become queen. Luckily, the family is more than ready to fight the angry royals, and Keeley has a few surprising aides to help her bring Beatrix to safety. Among them a small group of Amichai, mysterious mountain warriors sent to protect the incumbent queen and their neighboring realm from the power-hungry heirs. Caid, a taciturn member of the Scarred Earth Clan with a reputation for roughness, is amused by Keeley’s outlook and antics and agrees to join her to face the oncoming threats.
VERDICT This new series opener from Aiken ("Dragon Kin" series) is a bit bumpy in its worldbuilding, but readers looking for a fantasy romance that doesn’t take ­itself too seriously will enjoy.—Kellie Tilton, Univ. of Cincinnati Blue Ash

Ashford, Jane. How To Cross a Marquess. Sourcebooks Casablanca. (Way to a Lord’s Heart, Bk. 3). Sept. 2019. 352p. ISBN 9781492663416. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492663423. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Five years ago, the arranged marriage between Roger Berwick, the Marquess of Chatton, and Fenella Fairclough, resulted in epic failure—Roger opted to cad around London, and as a result, Fenella fled to Scotland. Now Fenella has returned to England to care for her ailing father and Roger has been abruptly widowed by a woman he married to avoid scandal. When Roger and Fenella meet again as participants in a local pageant, they realize their aversion to each other and marriage isn’t what it used to be. Fenella has fought hard for her independence, though, and to overcome the hurt of Roger’s earlier rejection. When an anonymous assailant seeks revenge against Roger by attacking Fenella, Roger is forced to face the decisions of the past in order to gain back Fenella’s trust, and before tragedy strikes.
VERDICT Ashford’s third book in the series (after A Lord Apart) reveals that distance and time and perhaps a nudge from the right person at the right moment can set us on a new path toward happiness. Plenty of peril and intrigue keep the pages of this satisfying Regency romance turning.—Kellie Tilton, Univ. of Cincinnati Blue Ash

Cabot, Meg. No Judgments. Morrow. (Little Bridge Island, Bk. 1). Sept. 2019. 384p. ISBN 9780062913579. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062890030. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
A hurricane is headed straight for Little Bridge Island, FL, and Bree Beckham is determined to stick it out in order to care for her recovering cat Gary. She’s just reset her life after leaving law school, dumping her gaslighting ex, and moving across the country. Slowly piecing together what to do next, Bree knows that running back home isn’t a preferred option, even if she was willing to leave Gary. Which she’s not. Also not part of the plan? Men. Especially the hot and snarky Drew Hartwell, who has quite the reputation as a ladies’ man, and who is also planning to weather the storm in his newly built beach house. As disaster approaches and Little Bridge is cut off from the mainland, Bree discovers that while she’s stayed with Gary, other pets on the island have been left alone. With some help from Drew, Bree sets out to provide refuge for as many of the animals as possible, abandoning any judgment of the pets’ owners or Drew’s past.
VERDICT As in Cabot’s previous adult romances (e.g., The Boy Is Back), our heroine’s wit and humor and determination to stay the course shines through in this breezy story that is a pure delight to read.—Kellie Tilton, Univ. of Cincinnati Blue Ash

DeLuca, Jen. Well Met. Berkley. Sept. 2019. 336p. ISBN 9781984805386. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781984805393. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
DEBUT Emily Parker is only in Willow Creek, MD, to look after her sister and niece while her sister recovers from a recent car accident. Sure, Emily just broke up with her boyfriend and now has no place to live, but really, her stay will be brief. Helping out means volunteering for the annual Renaissance Faire and playing the part of a tavern wench. Giving up her weekends and having to wear a corset isn’t terrible if it allows her to connect with her niece, Caitlin. It’s festival organizer, Simon Graham, who is the thorn in Emily’s side. The faire is Simon’s late brother’s legacy, and he’s ­determined to run everything the exact same way and with a severe commitment to the show. When the event begins, Simon adopts his alter ego, a confident, flirting pirate with eyes set on Emily’s wench character. Emily’s not sure if it’s all an act or if there’s something more to the tension that’s building and causing them to butt heads at every turn. VERDICT DeLuca turns in an intelligent, sexy, and charming debut romance sure to resonate with Renaissance Faire enthusiasts and those looking for an upbeat, lighter read.
Kellie Tilton, Univ. of ­Cincinnati Blue Ash

redstarDunmore, Evie. Bringing Down the Duke. Berkley. (League of Extraordinary Women, Bk. 1). Sept. 2019. 368p. ISBN 9781984805683. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781984805690. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
DEBUT In Victorian England, Annabelle Archer cooks and cleans for her cousin Gilbert’s family. Given the chance to study at the new women’s school in Oxford, she pursues a scholarship from a women’s suffrage group. The terms of the award include participating in marches, handing out pamphlets, and petitioning men in power to change the Married Women’s Property Act. One of the men she attempts to sway is the cold and formidable Duke of Montgomery, Sebastian Devereux, who is working hard to remain in the good graces of Queen Victoria in order to restore his family’s legacy and reclaim his ancestral home. Both Sebastian and Annabelle are determined to get what they want, and their plights collide when Annabelle manages to get herself and her suffragette friends invited to the duke’s house for a holiday party.
VERDICT Dunmore’s debut is chock-full of verve, history, and passion, introducing a heroine who knows her worth and is determined not to be held back by her past. This series opener provides many opportunities for future installments, which will comfort readers as they reach the enthralling denouement. —Kellie Tilton, Univ. of Cincinnati Blue Ash

Eden, Sarah M. The Lady and the Highwayman. Shadow Mountain. (Victorian, Bk. 2). Sept. 2019. 352p. ISBN 9781629726052. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781629737928. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Fletcher Walker, author of the day’s most successful penny dreadfuls, has never forgotten his origins. As a member of the Dread Penny Society, he uses his earnings to help make the streets a cleaner and safer place to live. When he learns a new upstart named Charles King is eating away at his top spot and therefore his contributions to the society, he sets out on a quest that leads him to Elizabeth Black, a headmistress at a local girl’s school and author of respectable silver-fork novels. Her commitment to causes similar to those Fletcher advocates for intrigues him, but he also senses that Elizabeth knows more than she’s letting on about the identity of the mystery author. In fact, she is writing the popular works in question, but if her secret were revealed, her own reputation and that of her school would be ruined. Drawn to Fletcher’s intellect as much as his gorgeous looks, Elizabeth finds it increasingly difficult to refuse his invitation to help track down the elusive King.
VERDICT Eden’s latest entry in the "Victorian" series (after Ashes on the Moor) is a joy to read, filled with adventure, suspense, two characters longing for love but protective of their secrets. Two original penny dreadfuls interspersed throughout make this story even more impressive.
Kellie Tilton, Univ. of Cincinnati Blue Ash

redstarGuillory, Jasmine. Royal Holiday. Berkley. (Wedding Date, Bk. 4). Oct. 2019. 304p. ISBN . $20; ebk. ISBN 9781984802224. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
When Vivian Forest’s daughter Maddie (the heroine of Guillory’s previous book, The Wedding Party) asks if she’d like to spend Christmas in England in the residence of royalty, the fiftysomething, Oakland-based social worker thinks it’s a joke. Maddie, a stylist to a duchess, tells Vivian she will simply get to enjoy a vacation, which quickly becomes the trip of a lifetime when Vivian meets Malcolm, the handsome and courteous private secretary to the Queen. He takes her on a tour of the royal estate, which leads to horseback riding, exchanging adorable handwritten notes, and sharing many delectable scones. After Christmas, they continue enjoying each other’s company in London, with Vivian set to return to the States on New Year’s Day to begin a new position. Vivian and Malcolm bring out the best in each other; her patience and quiet strength help him deal with family conflict, while he inspires her to make happiness her top priority.
VERDICT Filled with delightful, swoon-worthy dates and many laughs, this affectionate, cross-continent holiday romance is perfect for cozying up with on a cold winter’s night. Fans of this popular series will be clamoring for this latest entry.—Jenna Friebel, Oak Park P.L., IL

Howell, Hannah. The Scotsman Who Swept Me Away. Kensington. (Seven Brides for Seven Scotsmen, Bk. 3). Sept. 2019. 256p. ISBN 9781420143096. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781420143102. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Geordie MacEnroy has a yen to see the ocean again, even if it means venturing hundreds of miles away from his family’s homestead in the Ozarks. The idea also appeals to his brother Robbie, who is in search of innovative treatments for old wounds that refuse to heal. The brothers venture east and then up the coast of New England where they encounter a woman defending her land from a band of thieves. ­Geordie steps in to help, but Mehitabel Ampleford is easily disperses the crowd without his interference. Allowed to stay on at Belle’s place, the ­MacEnroys enjoy their time by the sea and learn that Belle may have the medical expertise that could help Robbie’s recovery. Belle finds ­Geordie’s desire to help his brother and protect her home endearing but also knows that his heart belongs to a land elsewhere. ­Geordie, however, is beginning to see life on the coast in a new light, largely because of Belle’s presence.
VERDICT Series fans will appreciate this next chapter in the adventures of the seven MacEnroy brothers and the women who love them, especially as Howell ("Murrays" series) moves the story to a New England coast setting. —Kellie Tilton, Univ. of Cincinnati Blue Ash

McFarlane, Mhairi. Don’t You Forget About Me. Morrow. Sept. 2019. 432p. ISBN 9780062958464. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062958471. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
After being sacked from her waitressing job at a terrible restaurant, Georgina Horspool heads to her boyfriend’s place, where she catches him in the act of cheating. As if things couldn’t get worse, she takes a gig as a bartender at a new pub only to discover it’s owned by Lucas McCarthy, her first love from when she was a teenager—and he doesn’t remember her. Meanwhile, Georgina is still grieving her dad’s death, she feels like a disappointment to her mum for not having a more successful career, and she’s constantly having to deal with conniving men. Amazingly, Georgina continues to view the world with warmth and humor, which is apparent through her smart, light-hearted, first-person narration. Her interactions with a lovely group of supportive friends add levity to this second-chance romance. ­
VERDICT McFarlane (After Hello) uses Georgina’s voice to explore how humor is used to mask pain as well as to help understand and get through it. Successful as both a romantic comedy and an insightful look into finding one’s voice, this is a story readers will flock to for the laughs and remember for its realness.
Jenna Friebel, Oak Park P.L., IL  MacKenzie, Sally. The Merry Viscount. Kensington. (Widow’s Brew, Bk. 2). Sept. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9781420146721. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781420146752. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Miss Caroline Anderson is in a bind. As the beer brewer for the women’s refuge home where she lives, she needs to find more lucrative markets for her brew. When things do not go as planned during an attempted sale in London, Caro ends up in an overturned stagecoach on the way home, in the middle of a snowstorm. Fortunately, her brother’s old friend, and her childhood crush, Nick, Viscount Oakland, lives nearby. Unfortunately, he’s hosting a rather scandalous house party. After a nasty encounter with a former employer, Caro is in no mood for dealing with rakes. Nick is also getting tired of his wastrel ways and has the nagging suspicion he should take charge of his estate, even if it means doing right by his detested late uncle, the former Viscount. Over the course of two days, Nick and Caro confront what their growing attraction means for their futures.
VERDICT What begins as a typical snowbound-at-Christmas tale evolves into an emotionally driven reflection on how love can help overcome past traumas. Perfect for readers looking for a more thoughtful holiday story.—Kathryn Howe, Saint John Free P.L., NB

Ringle, Molly. All the Better Part of Me. Central Avenue. Sept. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9781771681674. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781771681681. m/m CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Known for her fantasy romances (e.g., The Goblins of Bellwater), Ringle here switches gears with a realistic story of a young man wrestling with his bisexuality. Twenty-five-year-old actor Sinter Blackwell has always been attracted to women. But lately he can’t stop thinking about his gay best friend, Andy, living back home in Seattle and newly returned to the dating market. Even a mutual attraction between Sinter and his female director can’t distract him from fantasies about Andy and what would happen if they followed up on that kiss they shared as teens. Though it means giving up a budding acting career in London, Sinter is willing to follow his heart and take a chance on Andy, even though he risks disappointing his conservative family. When the two best friends finally get together, Sinter discovers that his new identity may take more courage than he’s comfortable with.
VERDICT This honest coming-of-age romance will resonate with those who are discovering their own sexual identity, while Sinter and Andy’s flirtatious, tentative romance should please all lovers of the genre.—Kathryn Howe, Saint John Free P.L., NB

Ryan, Jennifer. Restless Rancher. Avon. (Wild Rose, Bk. 2). Nov. 2019. 384p. ISBN 9780062952646. $26.99; pap. ISBN . $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062851840. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE Austin Hubbard has found himself at the bottom of a bottle and just barely hanging onto his dream thanks to his best friend’s girlfriend, Roxy. He wakes up in more ways than one when Sonya Tucker comes into his life one morning with a pitcher full of water. Sonya left her job at an accounting firm and is now helping her sister Roxy with a new investment project, the ranch Austin inherited from his grandfather. While things might be heating up as Austin and Sonya make the hoarder house into a respectable home, dark family secrets on both sides threaten to destroy what feels like the first place Sonya has ever felt she belongs.
VERDICT Series fans will enjoy this look into Austin’s life, along with more appearances from Noah, Roxy, and other residents of Wild Rose Ranch. Ryan delights with exciting twists and one hot, protective cowboy. Readers may struggle to believe how easily this couple overcomes each hurdle set in their way, but if they hang on, they will be eager to return to Wild Rose Ranch. Especially recommended for fans of Linda Howard.—Morgan Lockard, Campbell Cty. P.L., KY

Tyler, Paige. Wolf Rebel. Sourcebooks Casablanca. (SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team, Bk. 10). Nov. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9781492670599. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492670605. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE
Rachel Bennett is plagued by clown-filled nightmares, but as a werewolf SWAT officer, sharing her crumbling psyche could pull her off duty. Keeping secrets from her pack becomes much more complicated when an enemy resurfaces in the form of ex-Navy SEAL and security agent Knox Lawson—a werewolf hunter who attacked Rachel’s pack one night, a man Rachel let live. But Knox is turning into a werewolf himself and needs Rachel’s help. Rachel doesn’t know whether to trust this person her inner wolf is drawn to or her own questionable sanity. When her night terrors escalate, Rachel realizes that the unknown man at her side might be the one to help vanquish her foes. A high-octane pace keeps readers on the edge of their seats as Tyler (Wolf Instinct) weaves an epic battle—both physical and psychological—in this tenth installment of her paranormal "SWAT" series.
VERDICT Exceptional worldbuilding and a thriller atmosphere will appeal to paranormal readers of Jennifer Ashley and Stephanie Tyler. Romantic suspense fans will be drawn to the ardent relationship between the reformed werewolf hunter and SWAT officer fighting the demons of her past. —Michaelene Malan, P.l. of Enid and Garfield Cty., OK

Wray, Sharon. One Dark Wish. Sourcebooks Casablanca. (Deadly Force, Bk. 2). Sept. 2019. 448p. ISBN 9781492693925. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492655640. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE
Historian Sarah Munroe has a lot on her plate. Her career took a downward spiral ever since her work on a colonial-era pirate romance was published before it was ready. She also had to move back to Savannah to help her father, who is suffering from seizures and memory loss. Continuing her research despite her supervisor’s orders against it, she sneaks into a private cemetery hoping to find the grave of a pair of cursed lovers. There, she becomes the target of a crime lord and an assassin, one of whom wants her to uncover the love story, while the other asks her to stop her investigation. Assistance comes in the form of ex-Green Beret Nate Walker. Though he has the same seizures as her father and is about to be sent away for years, he works to help her decode the cipher of a 17th-century map and fiercely protects her from the forces that want her dead.
VERDICT Danger abounds in this steamy second entry in Wray’s "Deadly Force" series (after Every Deep Desire) that is unfortunately marred by too many plot twists, making it difficult even for familiar readers to keep everything straight. —Nanci Milone Hill, M.G. Parker Memorial Lib., Dracut, MA


This article was originally published in Library Journal's September 2019 issue 

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