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Painting the Moon

Traci Borum. Red Adept (red-adeptpublishing.com), $14.99 trade paper (310p) ISBN 978-1-940-21532-7

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As a child and teenager, Noelle Cooke spent enchanted summers in England with her grandmother; her great-aunt, Joy Valentine, a famous painter; and her best friends, Jillian and Adam. Now in her 30s, she lives in San Diego with an unfulfilling job and a series of dead-end relationships. When she receives a letter informing her that the mysteriously reclusive Joy has died, leaving Noelle the sole heir of a Cotswold cottage and a failing art gallery, she expects to spend a few days winding up Joy’s affairs before returning to California. But the discovery of a locked room full of masterpieces worth millions changes her plans, as do renewed friendships with Jillian and a nascent romantic connection with Adam, who is now a successful architect—and has a fiancée. Noelle’s discovery of her aunt’s journal and her parsing the secrets of her artwork is more intriguing than her faux-innocent and flirtatious relationship with Adam as they revisit the near-romance of their adolescence. Agent: Steven Chudney, Chudney Agency. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Still the One

Jill Shalvis. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-0-425-27018-9

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Shalvis’s sixth Animal Magnetism contemporary (after Then Came You) suffers from a weak plot and unsympathetic characters. Fiercely independent Darcy Stone, who trains service dogs for veterans, is 100% self-reliant—except when she’s around the sexy, confounding AJ Colten, her old friend and physical therapist. After a terrible car accident, Darcy struggled to regain what walking skills she could under the watchful eye of AJ, who pushed her hard despite his strong romantic feelings for her—feelings he tried to deny because she’s his best friend’s little sister. A particularly humiliating incident led Darcy to vow that she would never let AJ into her heart. But when they head to a conference together and are forced into the charade of an engagement, a snowstorm locks them in and leads to a weekend of improbable passion. AJ and Darcy stumble through various misunderstandings, a lack of communication, and flimsy conflicts in the form of other love interests, while figuring out whether they are really meant for each another. Though AJ is reasonably heroic, hard-headed Darcy is difficult to appreciate, and the plot never gels. Agent: Robin Rue, Writers House. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Too Dangerous for a Lady

Jo Beverley. Signet Select, $7.99 mass market (432p) ISBN 978-0-451-47189-5

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Beverley’s long-running Company of Rogues Regency series continues (after A Shocking Delight) with a novel that eschews steamy love scenes to focus on character development and a swiftly moving plot. Lady Hermione Merryhew is traveling with her nephews to her great-uncle’s estate. As they rest at an inn, she receives an unlikely visitor, Lt. Mark Thayne. He begs Hermione to hide him from the law, and she agrees, mostly because she has kept the brass button from his uniform for the six years since their brief encounter at a ball. Thayne has infiltrated a band of revolutionaries; Hermione believes Thayne to be a common thief, and he decides not to correct her assumption, as he thinks the truth will put her in danger. The mystery surrounding the threat of revolution adds heavy suspense to the burgeoning romance. Beverley’s brilliantly drawn protagonists shine in a story that puts equal emphasis on intrigue and love. Agent: Margaret Ruley, Rotrosen Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Unleashing

Shelly Laurenston. Kensington, $15 ISBN 978-1-61773-505-9

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Laurenston (Bite Me) launches a series in an alternate contemporary setting populated by the Norse gods (with which she takes some liberties) and their mortal agents. Former Marine Kera Watson is stabbed in an alley and left for dead. To her shock, the Norse deity Skuld revives her and transforms her into one of the Crows, empowered to fight and kill as needed for her new mistress. As the disciplined, orderly Kera acclimates to her new role, she clashes with the laid-back, chaotic nature of her fellow Crows. She also falls for Ludvig “Vig” Rundstom, a warrior of the rival Ravens. Their cross-clan romance surprises and amuses everyone, especially those familiar with Vig’s stoic nature. But soon they all have something more to worry about: cultists are using blood magic and stolen treasures to try to bring a long-forgotten goddess to the mortal plane. If they succeed, it could rekindle an ancient war. Laurenston’s trademark blend of action, earthy humor, magic, and romance is on full display. Her characters enjoy profane language, screwball comedy, and lusty bedroom antics at every opportunity, while advancing a fast-paced, satisfying, and often deadly serious story. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg, Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Scoundrel and the Debutante

Julia London. HQN, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-373-77951-2

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Bestseller London (The Devil Takes a Bride) returns with a lively and unusual romp in her series about sisters whose methods of choosing spouses have shocked Regency society. Middle sister Prudence Cabot envies her happily married sisters and blames their notorious courtships for her single status. Longing for adventure, the misnamed Prudence abandons an approved trip with her chaperone, instead choosing to assist a handsome fellow who’s trying to locate his missing sister. Roan Matheson, despite being American, “in trade,” and nearly engaged to another woman, is an appealing hero who knows how to treat an English miss. Once Roan and Prudence abandon their stagecoach for seduction, they’re on the road to a happy conclusion, despite setbacks caused by their families and a blackmailer. Prudence’s personality sparkles, and while her antics are illogical, London’s well-honed storytelling skills carry the day. Agent: Jenny Bent, Bent Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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When a Rake Falls

Sally Orr. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0214-9

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Orr’s second Regency romance (after The Rake’s Handbook) begins with a hot-air balloon ride and then descends into incoherence. Lord Boyce Parker is attempting to win a race that requires him to reach Paris from London; he rents the aeronautist Mountfloy’s balloon and is carried off with Mountfloy’s daughter, Eve, as his only companion. Eve, an aspiring scientist, finds the race nonsensical, but she’s determined to prove to her father that women can contribute to scientific inquiry. Unfortunately, after they crash-land in Sussex, various plot contrivances involving Eve’s father’s misogyny and Boyce’s family are handled without nuance. The inconsistent characterization of Boyce—charming friend one moment, total fool the next—leaves the central romance a mishmash of set pieces that never coheres. It’s refreshing that the lady is a logic-driven scientist and the gentleman an emotional beauty, but novelty is insufficient to carry the book. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymour Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Spice

Lilah Suzanne. Interlude (interludepress.com), $15.99 trade paper (228p) ISBN 978-1-941530-25-2

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Simon Beck writes the “Ask Eros” sex-advice column for a women’s magazine, his soft-edged snark inadvertently mirroring the anxieties roiling his personal life. Benji McHugh is a redheaded tech support geek who keeps Simon’s computer disassembled for days as an excuse for endless visits that soon become courtship. The primary obstacle to their happiness is Andrew, a sociopathic sales guy with a knack for pressing Simon’s buttons. Suzanne keeps the humor warm and the sex real as the men sort themselves out. There’s minimal plot, especially once Simon’s constant need for article fodder leads to a string of experimental romps that overwhelm the second half of the book. His homemade variety show is sweet and a little kinky, but neither deeply felt nor powerfully erotic. The result is a just-for-fun collection of slight vignettes with adorable pet cameos and some dead-on glimpses of daily life for handsome and well-paid singles in N.Y.C. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Mystic Marriage

Heather Rose Jones. Bella, $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-59493-441-4

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When Antuniet Chazillen’s brother is convicted of treason, she loses everything but her name and her greatest treasure—an ancient and rare alchemical tome. For years she struggles, starves, and tutors her way through a fictionalized version of late-Renaissance Europe, always barely a step ahead of the dangerous people sent to steal the book. Finally out of options, Antuniet returns home to the small kingdom of Alpennia, where she is forced to navigate a confusing tangle of friends, allies, and distant relations as she works to create an alchemical gift worthy of royalty, to restore her family’s good name. She’s frequently distracted by the dance of seduction with Jeanne, a noblewoman in the Alpennian court. Her story easily captures the reader’s interest, but nearly equal time is given to the characters from Daughter of Mystery, the first book in the series, and their own ongoing dramas bog down Antuniet’s tale, drawing attention away from the courageous young woman and toward the politics that only intersect tangentially with her own story. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Deception of a Highlander

Madeline Martin. Diversion (diversion-
books.com), $4.99 e-book (248p) ISBN 978-1-62681-631-2

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Martin’s promising debut sets a dramatic romance in the faintly sketched world of early Jacobean Scotland. Mariel Brandon is given three months to seduce and extract information from Highland laird Kieran MacDonald, with threats to her young brother’s life if she fails. As they travel from London to Edinburgh to Kieran’s home on Skye, Kieran struggles to protect his secrets from the mysterious woman who is trying to find a way into his bed and his heart. Martin has achieved a difficult creation, portraying two people who manage to keep secrets from each other without lying. Martin gives Mariel a strong personality without falling into anachronism, and Kieran manages to balance his leadership duties with his growing feelings for Mariel without seeming too good to be true. In contrast, the secondary characters behave inconsistently, and the villains are very close to cartoonish. The core of the book is a tightly plotted sequence of events that focuses and deepens the relationship of the main couple. Agent: Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Rumor Has It

Cheris Hodges. Kensington/Dafina, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-61773-379-6

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Hodges (Love After War) infuses this contemporary with complex and vivid love, friendship, and loyalty. Public-relations professional Liza Palmer is never off duty, so she ditches a wedding planning session with her best friend, Chante, and heads to the office of Chante’s fiancé, Robert, to discuss an idea for his North Carolina senatorial campaign. When Liza interrupts Robert having sex with a woman on his desk, she is outraged by his behavior, and then hurt by Chante’s refusal to believe her. Determined to expose Robert, Liza takes the juicy gossip to his competitor, Jackson Franklin, a handsome man who leaves her tingling and weak in the knees. Jackson refuses to play dirty politics, but he does want to get inside sassy Liza’s “mind, heart, and soul.” As rumors fly, damaging Liza’s reputation, Jackson’s hot and tender lovemaking claims her heart. With Jackson and Robert neck and neck, Liza has to make some difficult choices. The nonstop intrigue, romance, and smart dialogue will keep readers enthralled. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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