Sweet & Saucy Reads by Burrowes, Hibbert, Jackson, Lee, Wilsner, & Others | Romance

Burrowes’s latest shines as a standout in the historical romance subgenre; this unputdownable slow-burn romance debut features well-drawn and incredibly real characters; this witty and delightful story about family, forgiveness, and letting go is utterly satisfying; Wilsner does an amazing job exploring a Hollywood love story in the middle of a #metoo movement

redstarBurrowes, Grace. A Duke by Any Other Name. Forever: Grand Central. (Rogues to Riches, Bk. 4). Apr. 2020. 384p. ISBN 9781538700327. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Althea Wentworth refuses to be the laughingstock of polite society for another London Season. Despite her brother’s ducal title and wealth, she still has not risen above her status as a street beggar with a mean drunkard of a father. Licking her wounds in Yorkshire, she strives to be neighborly and visits the reclusive Nathaniel Rothmere, Duke of Rothhaven. If anyone knows how to ascend the gossip and claim his place in society, it’s Nathaniel. Upon first meeting, Thea finds the duke not only helpful in dealing with judgmental busybodies but also kind and burdened with secrets. Masquerading as the duke to protect his older brother, Robbie, Nathaniel knows his developing relationship with Thea threatens exposure. Yet with Thea by his side he wouldn’t face society alone. As emotions soar and passions ignite, the couple grapples with whether to continue the charade and be miserable or risk revealing all and possibly find happiness. VERDICT The latest in Burrowes’s stunning “Rogues to Riches” Regency-era series shines as a standout in the historical romance subgenre but is also a powerful story all on its own. The determined Althea charms readers right alongside the taciturn yet deep down tender Nathaniel. Highly recommended.—Kellie Tilton, Univ. of Cincinnati Blue Ash
 
Desai, Sara. The Marriage Game. Berkley Jove. Jun. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9780593100561. pap. $16. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
DEBUT Layla Patel has recently moved back home after hitting rock bottom in both her professional and her personal life. As she starts her own business in the office above her parents’ restaurant, she finds that her father has already leased it to someone else. Layla gets another surprise when she learns that her father has also created an online dating profile for her in hopes of finding her someone special. To start over and avoid making the same mistakes from her past relationships, Layla agrees to meet each of the men on her father’s list. Sam Mehta has recently relocated his redundancy business to the office above the restaurant that Layla’s family owns. At first, Sam and Layla are at odds with each other, but that changes when Sam agrees to be a chaperone with Layla’s ten suitors. What starts as a tumultuous cohabitation of the office turns into the possibility of much more. VERDICT This witty and delightful story about family, forgiveness, and letting go is utterly satisfying. Desai’s first book will be a hit with fans of Sonya Lalli’s The Matchmaker’s List.—Ashli Wells, Vanderbilt Univ. Law Lib., Nashville
 
redstarHibbert, Talia. Take a Hint, Dani Brown. Avon. (Brown Sisters, Bk. 2). Jun. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9780062941237. pap. $15.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
PhD student Danika Brown isn’t interested in romance. Emotions and feelings? No thanks! What she needs is a friend with benefits, someone who will help her take the edge off while she’s busy preparing for an upcoming symposium. Security guard and former rugby player Zafir Ansari is Dani’s opposite when it comes to relationships. He has read enough romance novels to believe in a happily ever after. When a video of Zaf carrying Dani out of a building during an emergency drill goes viral, it draws attention to Zaf’s nonprofit for children that links sports and mental health. The two decide to fake date to keep the momentum going, for the good of the children and such. But the more time they spend in each other’s company, the harder it is to know what is fake and what is real. VERDICT Hibbert’s follow up to Get a Life, Chloe Brown, featuring Dani’s sister, is another superb and emotionally rich romance. Grief and turmoil are expertly balanced with hilarious wit, making the story both complex and immensely readable. The characters are vibrant, and their chemistry is scorching. Remarkable. [See Prepub Alert, 12/19.]—Jenna Friebel, Oak Park P.L., IL
 
Hunter, Madeline. Heiress for Hire. Zebra: Kensington. (Duke’s Heiress, Bk. 1). May 2020. 336p. ISBN 9781420149975. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Three women are left fortunes by a duke they’ve never met in this first of a new romantic whodunit series from award-­winning author Hunter (Never Deny a Duke). Minerva Hepplewhite is the first to discover she’s an heiress from the duke’s nephew, Chase, after she nearly knocks him unconscious, thinking he’s an intruder in her home. Down on her luck since leaving her abusive husband, Minerva knows the money is just what she needs to start her detective business, Hepplewhite’s Office of Discreet Inquiries. Unfortunately, her first case—determining how her mysterious benefactor died—is also being investigated by Chase, and Minerva is his prime suspect. Though the two are at odds to start, they grudgingly admire each other’s skills and eventually pair up for business and pleasure. Frustratingly, the mystery remains unsolved until later in the series. Also, some readers may find the blunt descriptions of Minerva’s past abuse by her husband particularly disturbing. VERDICT Readers who enjoy strong elements of crime solving in their romances will love Minerva and Chase’s sleuthing, but be prepared to collect the entire series for closure on the mystery.—Kathryn Howe, Saint John Free P.L., NB
 
Jackson, Kwana. Real Men Knit. Berkley. May 2020. 336p. ISBN 9781984806505. pap. $16. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Strong Knits, a Harlem yarn store, has been a community staple for years. It was Kerry Fuller’s safe harbor when she was a kid and her employer when she got older. When Mama Joy, the store’s owner and Kerry’s surrogate mother, dies suddenly, she is sure Mama Joy’s four adoptive sons will sell the business. Jesse Strong knows he has a reputation for his lack of commitment but is determined to not let Mama Joy’s legacy be so easily sold. He recruits Kerry to help him get the shop up and running. Kerry knows she needs to be focused on her own future now, but she finds she can’t let her longtime crush down. After an issue at her apartment, Jesse and Kerry begin working and living together, which makes it much harder to pretend they aren’t attracted to one another. With hearts and the future of Strong Knits in the mix, saving the family yarn store truly becomes a labor of love. VERDICT Jackson, writing for the first time under her new pen name, has created a relationship where sparks fly and a compelling family for her to plumb in future installments of the new series. Put this in the hands of K.M. Jackson (As Good as the First Time) readers, yarn lovers, or anyone who enjoys a contemporary romance series involving a dynamic ­family. [See Prepub Alert, 11/11/19.]—Kellie Tilton, Univ. of Cincinnati Blue Ash
 
Jarecki, Amy. The Highland Rogue. Forever: Grand Central. (Lords of the Highlands). Apr. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9781538750940. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Divana Campbell and her family, all suffering from smallpox, were dumped on the tiny isle of Hyskeir off the Scottish coast. Surviving by her wits and a slingshot, Divana one day discovers Sir Kennan Cameron, who has washed ashore, is close to death, and is in need of her care. Kennan narrowly escaped an attack on his life by the pirate Jackson Vane, and he’s puzzled and amused by feisty, fearless Divana, who nurses him back to health while he plots his revenge against Vane. Their escape from the island is not without peril, and the action soon shifts from a lonely prison to Kennan’s highlands home to the treacherous pirating world of the Caribbean islands. Kennan is a swoon-worthy Scottish hero, brawny and protective of his people, while Divana proves she can more than hold her own with bravery and courage. VERDICT Highlanders, high seas, and brigands ahoy! There’s never a dull moment in Jarecki’s (The Highland Earl) swashbuckling adventure, which feels like a wonderful blend of Outlander and Pirates of the Caribbean.—Kathryn Howe, Saint John Free P.L., NB
 
Jordan, Sophie. The Virgin and the Rogue. Avon. (Rogue Files, Bk. 6). May 2020. 368p. ISBN 9780062885449. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Charlotte Langley has always considered herself the most timid and boring of her three sisters. Then one night, just weeks before marrying her dull childhood friend, she accidentally drinks a tonic that causes her to become uncontrollably aroused. Whilst under the influence, she accosts Kingston, her brother-in-law’s roguish stepbrother, and does unspeakable things to him (not that he minds). The next morning she’s horrified, while Kingston is intrigued, realizing she’s not the stuffy miss he originally assumed she was. Charlotte is convinced that her attraction to Kingston is purely the effect of the tonic, but her insistence on the matter only convinces Kingston that there’s a genuine attraction between them. In time, Charlotte begins questioning her motives for marrying her humdrum fiancé, and begins to see herself as a woman of passion. VERDICT A light and enjoyable comedy of errors from best-selling Jordan (The Duke’s Stolen Bride); this reads like a sexier version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.—Kathryn Howe, Saint John Free P.L., NB
 
Lee, Jayci. A Sweet Mess. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Jul. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9781250621108. pap. $16.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Aubrey Choi’s bakery business is thriving—until a scathing review from a famous food critic, who happens to be someone she had a previous connection with, puts all her hard work into jeopardy. Critic Landon Kim cannot stop thinking about Aubrey. He learns that his review was unfair and based on a misunderstanding and feels horrible. However, he believes that he cannot retract his review since it will shed light on their previous encounter and damage their careers. Instead, he offers Aubrey the chance of a lifetime to help her struggling business and hopes it is enough to warrant a second chance with her. VERDICT Lee’s (Temporary Wife Temptation) latest is perfect for anyone who enjoyed Amy E. Reichert’s The ­Coincidence of Coconut Cake. Readers will get lost in Aubrey’s sugary creations while rooting for the characters to find their happily ever after.—Ashli Wells, Vanderbilt Univ. Law Lib., Nashville
 
Lozada, Evelyn Holly Lorincz. The Wrong Mr. Darcy. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Jun. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9781250622143. pap. $16.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Reporter Hara Isari is determined to make a name for herself covering sports at a major news outlet, but it’s hard for a woman to break into the field. When she has the opportunity to interview one of the biggest names in professional basketball, she jumps at the chance to show that she can keep up. Unfortunately, talking to Charles Butler also means spending time around Derek Darcy, his teammate and best friend, who, while admittedly handsome, is the most unpleasant person Hara has ever met. When Hara accidentally overhears that Charles is hiding a dark secret that could endanger his career and the team, she and Derek struggle to reconcile their attraction to one another with Hara’s journalistic ambition and Derek’s need to protect his best friend. Readers attracted to the cheery cover may be surprised by the heavy themes that surface late in the book. VERDICT Those hoping for a contemporary retelling of Pride and Prejudice will likely be disappointed, as any similarities to Jane Austen’s classic novel distract from the story rather than add depth. Fans of sports romance in which twists and drama abound may find it more enjoyable, though at times the plot feels overstuffed as threads and story lines appear suddenly or are left dangling without conclusion.—Jessica Moore, ­Milwaukee P.L.
 
Oliveras, Priscilla. Island Affair. Zebra: Kensington. Apr. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781420150179. pap. $15.95. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Social media influencer Sara Vance’s boyfriend stands her up after she arrives in Key West for a family vacation, so she recruits a local firefighter, Luis Navarro, to play the part. The only complication is that they have to make sure to avoid Luis’s family and friends as they’re playing lovebirds around town. Sara and Luis have some real chemistry together, and there are some sexy moments throughout the story, although not very explicit. However, there are some very serious topics addressed in the story that may be a surprise to readers expecting a light story, and a heaping dose of melodrama to add some last-minute tension for the hero and heroine. VERDICT Readers who love the “fake dating” trope or romances with a backdrop of family drama will enjoy this one. Content warnings for discussions of eating disorders, cancer, and loss.—Amanda Turk, Corvallis-Benton Cty. P.L., OR
 
Park, Suzanne. Loathe at First Sight. Avon. Aug. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9780062990693. pap. $15.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Melody Joo thought landing a job as a video game producer was a dream come true, but her misogynistic boss and coworkers quickly turn it into a nightmare. When she’s tasked with creating a game about male strippers in a postapocalyptic world, a concept she invented as a joke, intern Nolan MacKenzie is assigned to her team. Melody does not want to work with the privileged nephew of the CEO, but her initial dislike turns into begrudging respect, which leads to friendship and the possibility of more. After her game idea is leaked to the public and she finds herself the target of online harassers, she has to decide what’s worth fighting for, both in her career and in love. Told through Melody’s snarky, curse-laden, first-person narrative, this workplace dramedy with a romance subplot highlights the sexism and racism that Melody faces within the white male–dominated gaming industry and also shows the injustices and microaggressions she faces everywhere by simply existing as a Korean woman. VERDICT Melody’s characterization and voice sparkle throughout, despite extraneous plot points that make the story feel unfocused at times. Smart, punchy, and memorable.—Jenna Friebel, Oak Park P.L., IL
 
Roth, Kathleen Bittner. Felice. Zebra: Kensington. (Bayou Bad Boys, Bk. 1). May 2020. 386p. ISBN 9781420142082. pap. $7.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Felicité Marielle Christiane Andrews has returned to New Orleans after two years traveling the globe with the intention of introducing her English fiancé, Mayhew Rutherford, Marquess of Ainsworth, to her father, obtaining his blessing, then returning to England. Plans go awry when her brother requests her prowess to settle the books for the family shipping business during an employee’s absence. Spending time in the shipping offices means working around René Thibodeaux, the Cajun former thief who is trying to move beyond his past, whom she had hoped to avoid altogether. After all, he’s the reason she left New Orleans in the first place. As the ties between Felice and the rigid Mayhew begin to unravel, the chemistry between Felice and René reignites. They each have every reason to stay apart, but when René is framed for murder, they will risk whatever is necessary to gain a future together. ­VERDICT Roth (“Those Magnificent Malverns” series) kicks off a new series set in pre-Civil War New Orleans at a galloping pace. The well-drawn setting, Felice’s verve, and a cast of bold secondary characters illuminate every page.—Kellie Tilton, Univ. of Cincinnati Blue Ash
 
Rushdan, Juno. Until the End. Sourcebooks. (Final Hour, Bk. 3). May 2020. 448p. ISBN 9781492661795. $7.99. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE
The men and women of the covert Gray Box military unit are back in the third entry in the “Final Hour” series (after Nothing To Fear). Skilled hacker Kit Westcott is running for her life after witnessing the murders of her crew and knows she holds the key to stopping the violence. Finding safety in the arms of the stubborn and dangerous operative Castle Kincaid is the last thing she expects, but threats of bioterrorism and mass chaos force them to work together to avoid disaster and clear her name. As they dig deeper into the mystery of missing bio-agents and dangerous terrorist groups, the two find solace in each other through shared loss and trauma. Their loyalties are soon tested, and unforeseen betrayals force the couple to their breaking point. Relying on each other is soon the only option Kit and Castle have to save themselves and others from the deadly virus that is in the wrong hands. VERDICT In this pulse-pounding, military-heavy romance, Rushdan’s well-crafted characters jump off the page and will captivate lovers of romantic thrillers.—Jenna Harmison, Champaign Cty. Lib., OH
 
Santos, Yaffa S. A Taste of Sage. Harper. May 2020. 304p. ISBN 9780062974846. pap. $15.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
DEBUT Lumi Santana’s dreams of owning her own Dominican fusion restaurant have been dashed, and she’s forced to apply for a position as a sous-chef for a fancy French chef who runs his kitchen with an iron fist. Lumi has been able to taste the emotions of various cooks’ food her entire life, and she knows Julien Dax’s cooking will taste rigid and unyielding. Julien is determined to see his restaurant succeed where others have failed, and he’s convinced there’s only one way to do it. Lumi’s vibrant cooking style, however, is intriguing and he seeks out her ideas more and more. When Lumi finally samples a bite of Julien’s cooking, she finds the food electric and starts to wonder if she’s misjudged him. After a dangerous mishap in the kitchen, Lumi is sure she should stay far away from both Julien and the restaurant. Julien realizes if he wants Lumi in his life for good, he’s going to have to open his mind to new ideas and different life goals. VERDICT Santos’s debut blends the rare but real condition of synesthesia into a fast-paced if uneven romance. The recipes throughout make this a perfect recommendation to those checking out cookbooks with their romances.—Kellie Tilton, Univ. of Cincinnati Blue Ash
 
Tyler, Paige. Wolf Under Fire. Sourcebooks Casablanca. (STAT, Bk. 1). May 2020. 320p. ISBN 9781728205618. $7.99. PARANORMAL ROMANCE
After members of her Special Threat Assessment Team (STAT) are attacked and killed by unknown creatures while investigating a kidnapping, sole survivor Jestina Ridley is emotionally shaken and hard-pressed to trust the new STAT team to which she is assigned, especially given the fact that some of her new crew are werewolves. The supernatural community is no longer hiding in the shadows, and in order to keep the peace, Jake Huang, alpha werewolf and former Navy SEAL, has been assigned the task of leading a new pack to discover who or what is behind the original kidnappings and the deaths of Jes’s former teammates. As the heat intensifies between Jes and Jake, she wonders if she can truly trust the pack leader with both her life and her heart. VERDICT This first installment in Tyler’s new series gives a good introduction to members of the newly formed team. The story is action packed, so readers who enjoy a little romance amid intense car chases and explosions will be wholly satisfied.—Vicky M. Coffin, Salem Free P.L., CT
 
redstarWilsner, Meryl. Something To Talk About. Berkley. May 2020. 336p. ISBN 9780593102527. pap. $16. LGBTQ CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
DEBUT Emma Kaplan has been Jo Jones’s assistant for about a year when Jo asks Emma to join her at an awards show. Jo, who grew up as the only Chinese American cast member on a hit sitcom, has never shied away from confronting the uglier aspects of Hollywood, but she also knows the best way to deal with the press is to not engage. She is sure Emma’s presence on the red carpet will help run interference when word gets out she’s the new writer for a popular action franchise. When Emma rises to the occasion an innocent moment between the two is perceived as romantic by the same paparazzi Jo was trying to keep tamed, and the rumors spread like wildfire. As they work to keep the gossip under control—mostly by responding “no comment”—they spend more time together and determine they’d like to see their relationship grow into something more. But Emma is still Jo’s assistant, there’s someone leaking information to the press, and sticking with “no comment” is becoming a problem for Emma both personally and professionally. VERDICT This debut is an unputdownable slow-burn romance with well-drawn and incredibly real characters. Wilsner does an amazing job exploring a Hollywood love story in the middle of a #metoo movement.—Kellie Tilton, Univ. of Cincinnati Blue Ash

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