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The Great Estate

Sherri Browning. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4022-8685-8

Estranged spouses struggle to rebuild their marriage in the third installment of Browning’s Thornbrook Park Edwardian romance series (after An Affair Downstairs). Despite a passionate beginning, the relationship between Gabriel, Earl of Averford, and his wife, Sophia, swiftly cooled and grew brittle. After a moment of weakness in which Sophia kissed another man, Gabriel left her to run their estate for a year while he traveled the world, intent on improving himself as a husband. Sophia soon came into her own as a businesswoman, revitalizing Thornbrook Park. But when Gabriel comes back, ready to woo his wife like she deserves, Sophia means to make him work for every intimate moment. Given the obvious affection and simmering desire between the leads, many of their obstacles to happiness feel artificial. Browning excels at developing the setting and conveying the genteel, charming nature of her characters and their interactions. Sophia and Gabriel’s reunion is a nice payoff for those who’ve read the earlier books, though some of the final revelations feel a little rushed. Agent: Stephany Evens, FinePrint Literary Management. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2015 | Details & Permalink

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More than Words

T.T. Kove. Less Than Three (lessthanthree-
press.com), $6.99 e-book (332p) ISBN 978-1-62004-589-3

Kove’s second More than Anything novel is relentlessly depressing, focusing closely on gay male misery that’s hardly balanced by a few unrealistic scenes of passion. After bullied, self-hating teen Alex Eknes decides to kill himself, his plans are interrupted by the handsome, athletic Andreas Lister. Even though Andreas’s best friend is Alex’s most relentless tormentor, Andreas and Alex’s relationship is swiftly consummated. From there, the narrative loses steam. By the midway point, Kove stops including romantic or erotic interactions between the protagonists. Instead, what transpires is a rote recital of the worst-case-scenario tropes of homosexuality. The overall mood is miserable, with few characters showing any sign of hope or pleasure in life. The ending is ambiguous, with little conclusion for a story that has no arc. A series of events and a collection of characters are presented, rendered irrelevant, and disappear or are ignored—or else they are raised again and again within the story, with no meaning to be found. Even the most undemanding romance fan will be dissatisfied by this predictable, melancholy, and shallow novel. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Loving the Chase

Sharla Lovelace. Amazon/Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (369p) ISBN 978-1-50394-481-7

Dramatic pursuits and forces of nature play into the lives of Texans Madison Hayes and Zach Chase in just about every feasible way. Zach is one of the famous storm-chasing Chases and would like to promote the family business. When a Dallas-based online video company decides to produce a reality show featuring the Chases, it seems like a great opportunity. The only trouble is that the producer turns out to be none other than Maddi, Zach’s ex-fiancée. She was nearly killed in a storm he was chasing, and those turbulent memories soon come to the surface as the two try to make a strict business relationship work. The metaphors and the romantic chemistry all succeed as nature takes its course; there are no surprises, but the excitement of Texas’s dramatic weather and Maddi and Zach’s dramatic history make this an exhilarating and satisfying read. Agent: Jessica Faust, BookEnds. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Orchard at the Edge of Town

Shirlee McCoy. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3239-7

Fans of McCoy’s Apple Valley series, set in idyllic Washington State, will find this third installment (after The Cottage on the Corner) as cozy as a cup of chamomile tea beside the fireplace. Apricot Miller leaves her cheating fiancé in Los Angeles and flees, in a hideous wedding dress, to her aunt’s neglected Apple Valley home, planning to lay low for a bit before returning to the city and her successful herbal tea business. But the prospect of fixing up her aunt’s house and orchard encourages her to stay awhile, even when her hippie family descends to “help” her through the healing process. Even more attractive is the charm of Sheriff Simon Baylor, who was left raising his twin daughters after the death of his wife. Apricot and Simon face few obstacles; the ludicrous behavior of Simon’s sister-in-law, Daisy, who wants to marry him herself, is more irritation than threat. Cameos by other series characters, as well as McCoy’s familiar scenario of piecing together happy new families from broken ones, make this uncomplicated contemporary feel like coming home. Agent: Melissa Jeglinski, Knight Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Earl Claims a Bride

Amelia Grey. St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-04221-7

This second installment of the Heirs’ Club of Scoundrels Regency series is a middling follow-up to the satisfying first entry, The Duke in My Bed. Harrison Thornwick, who’s just become an earl after the sudden deaths of his father and brothers, is in an uncomfortable position. The Prince Regent has threatened to throw Harrison into jail for dueling if he refuses to marry Miss Angelina Rule. He is incensed by the prince’s demand but softens when he meets the beautiful, strong-willed, and witty Angelina, who is also told she must marry Harrison or her father will go to debtor’s prison. Unfortunately for Harrison, she admits that her heart belongs to another. Their first encounter and much of what follows feel forced and hurried. After only minutes of dialogue, Angelina declares that Harrison is “a wretched soul.” But Harrison decides to fight for her, and soon Angelina is torn between Harrison, who arouses her passion, and the man to whom she believes her heart belongs. All the melodrama detracts from the engaging possibilities of young love. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Break Your Heart

Rhonda Helms. Kensington, $9.95 ISBN 978-1-61773-122-8

Helms’s tale of a black math major’s grand passion for her Asian cryptography professor, a loose sequel to Scratch, feels like a flashback to 1950s category romance with a multicultural veneer. Megan Porter is obsessed with going to parties and sleeping with cute boys; she’s never noticed the connection between math and cryptoanalysis, and she’s unaware of the hottie in her own department, professor Nick Muramoto, until he walks into class. As a portrayal of an overachiever, this setup is unconvincing. Megan makes some gestures to escape her inappropriate attraction to her professor—thinking of dropping the class, redirecting her attention to guys her own age, seeking the support of friends —but just can’t help herself. Nick, meanwhile, groans, “No. Absolutely not,” and “God, I shouldn’t,” even as he most enthusiastically does. Why? Well, Megan is hot too. Apparently, no more justification is needed. The portrayal of Megan as promiscuous, sassy, and clueless will leave women in STEM fields gritting their teeth. Agent: Courtney Miller-Callihan, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lone Rider

B.J. Daniels. HQN, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-0-373-78841-5

Forget slow-simmering romance: the multiple story lines weaving in and out of Big Timber, Mont., mean the second Montana Hamiltons contemporary (after Wild Horses) is always at a rolling boil. Bo Hamilton grew up with Montana’s Crazy Mountains as her backyard, so she heads there to clear her mind before facing an auditor in Big Timber who may be able to identify the thief stealing funds from the foundation named after her mother. When Bo fails to return on time, cowboy Jace Calder chases after her and winds up helping her escape her from a suspected murderer who wants to make Bo his bride—willing or not. Meanwhile, Bo’s father, a senator and presidential candidate, is juggling the ambitions of his second wife with the needs of his first wife, who was presumed dead but has returned to Big Timber with suspicious amnesia. New readers will struggle to keep the large cast straight and connect with the protagonists, whose backstories are only sketched out. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Take the Fall

Marquita Valentine. Loveswept, $2.99 e-book (175p) ISBN 978-1-101-88650-2

Valentine combines new-adult angst, bad boys with hearts of gold, and red-hot love scenes in the first book of a spinoff series from her Boys of the South series (most recently Need You Tonight). Rowan Simmons isn’t a stereotypical Southern belle: she was raised largely by her older brother, Jase, on the wrong side of the tracks, and her idea of a good time is repairing cars. Rowan’s boyfriend, Seth O’Connor, is jailed along with Jase after a drag race gone bad, but Rowan stays loyal to the man she loves—until he shuts her out of his life. Seven years later, after spending nine months in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and going on several tours of duty in Afghanistan with the Marine Corps, Seth comes back to their tiny town to reclaim the girl he never should have given up. But the woman he finds has sworn that after Seth’s abandonment, she’ll never give any man that type of power over her again. Told from Seth and Rowan’s alternating first-person perspectives, this dramatic tale races enjoyably to the finish and sets up the next book in the series. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Tremaine’s True Love

Grace Burrowes. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-2102-7

Burrowes’s first True Gentlemen Regency is as thoughtful as it is romantic. When Tremaine St. Michael visits Nicholas, Earl of Bellefonte, he insists that he can only spare a few days away from his business matters. But his stay extends as he becomes enthralled with Lady Nita Haddonfield, the earl’s sister. Nita is pleasantly surprised that a gentleman such as Tremaine is willing to assist her with providing medical services to some of the area’s poorest residents. Though Tremaine and Nita are quick to act on their attraction with very little courtship, she’s less willing than he is to tie the knot, concerned that marriage will hamper her cherished independence. Burrowes (the Windham series) develops a multidimensional cast of characters amid rich depictions of rural aristocratic life in the early 19th century. The protagonists are brilliantly drawn, with plenty of romantic drama and witty repartee. Agent: Steve Axelrod, Axelrod Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2015 | Details & Permalink

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About That Fling

Tawna Fenske. Amazon/Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (325p) ISBN 978-1-5039-4426-8

Fenske’s take on what happens when a one-night stand goes horribly, painfully awry is hilariously heartwarming and overflowing with genuine emotion. Jenna McArthur has a public relations job she loves, a comfortable home in Portland, Ore., with her elderly aunt (who’s secretly an erotica author), a pregnant best friend whom she adores, and a wine habit that sends her into the arms of Adam Thomas, a handsome fellow she meets in a wine bar. Though neither of them planned for anything beyond flirtation, they end up indulging in one glorious night of anonymous sex—after which fate gleefully throws them together in a series of increasingly awkward daytime encounters. There’s something wonderfully relaxing about being immersed in a story filled with over-the-top characters in undeniably relatable situations. Heartache and humor go hand in hand in this laugh-out-loud story with an ending that requires a few tissues. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2015 | Details & Permalink

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