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One Hot Summer

Melissa Cutler. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-07186-6

Remedy Lane, the child of famous actors, was Hollywood royalty and a successful wedding planner until a scandal wrecked her career. She abandons Los Angeles for Dulcet, Tex., where being the special-events manager at luxury resort Briscoe Ranch Resort is her chance for redemption. But trouble keeps finding her, including an escaped elephant on a golf course, a runaway melon at a summer party, and a fire at the resort. Throw in sexy fire chief Micah Garrity, who makes it clear he has no use for a California princess, and sparks are inevitable. The attraction between the two is sizzling, but Remedy’s willingness to look past Micah’s chip on his shoulder about rich people is baffling. Micah can’t get over her outsider status, even as his friends and town eccentrics warmly embrace Remedy and she grows into a strong woman. Micah’s hero complex is tedious, and the eventual kick in the pants he receives for being a condescending jerk is extremely satisfying. Once he recognizes his imperfections, it gets easier to root for him and Remedy to get their happy ending. Agent: Jessica Alvarez, BookEnds. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Temptations of a Wallflower

Eva Leigh. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-235866-0

Leigh’s intelligent and emotional third Wicked Quills of London Regency (after Scandal Takes the Stage) proves that even the most demure ladies can hide a sexy side. Lady Sarah Frampton, the Duke of Wakefield’s daughter, has been nicknamed the Watching Wallflower. She must hide her identity as the Lady of Dubious Quality, the author of several shockingly erotic novels, to avoid scandal and shame to her family. When she meets Mr. Jeremy Cleland, a vicar and the son of an earl, she’s instantly drawn to him. Unbeknownst to Sarah, Jeremy’s father has demanded that he expose the identity of the Lady of Dubious Quality. Though Sarah and Jeremy’s brief acquaintance results in marriage, Sarah’s not sure that their newfound happiness can last if Jeremy learns her secret. Sarah is a refreshing heroine who insists on following her passion for writing. Jeremy is the perfect hero for her; despite his somewhat puritanical demeanor, he has a passionate heart and sees Sarah as a woman worth more than just her dowry. Leigh’s latest is a thoughtful and sensuous romance. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Wrapped in You

Jules Bennett. Kensington/Zebra, $7.99 mass market (345p) ISBN 978-1-4201-3908-2

Bennett sets up a formidable array of obstacles for two reunited lovers in this solid contemporary. When Zach Monroe and his brothers are summoned to Sophie Allen’s realty office to discuss options for their sister’s estate, Zach is forced to confront demons from his past, including his past relationship with Sophie. Zach’s guilt when he sees Sophie’s limp is aggravated by frustration and anger as he argues with his brothers and local officials, hoping to maintain ownership of his sister’s property in Haven, Ga., and make her dream come true. But Zach’s real battle is against his charged emotions for Sophie, which are fanned by her own still-smoldering attraction to him. He believes that if he succumbs to his decade-long desire for her, he’ll further tarnish her life The narrative is heavy-handed at times, reiterating obstacles rather than letting them come up naturally in dialogue and action, but shifting perspectives and plot developments keep the pace flowing steadily. Bennett also effectively creates heat between Zach and Sophie with sensual but non-explicit descriptions. Agent: Elaine Spencer, Knight Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Black Dust

Lynn Charles. Interlude, $17.99 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-941530-63-4

In this moving and heartfelt contemporary, Charles (Chef’s Table) beautifully chronicles the chaos that results from heartbreak and the agonizing efforts one must make to heal after tragedy. In 2000, Toby Spence and Emmett Henderson are on top of the world—young men ready to tackle their music-industry dreams and celebrate their love. In an instant, however, a car accident changes everything: their friend Scotty is instantly killed, and Emmett will require intensive physical therapy to be able to walk again. Painfully, Toby and Emmett part ways. Fast-forward 15 years, and Toby is a celebrated musician in New York City, while Emmett is teaching high school choir in their Indiana hometown. When Emmett brings a group of his students to New York, the two men rekindle their friendship, and later their love affair. But the romance is hampered by Toby’s guilt over Scotty’s death and the way he left Emmett. Readers will agonize, sympathize, and empathize all the way from the beginning of their journey to the end. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Selfie

Amy Lane. Riptide, $19.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-62649-385-8

Unerring eroticism and raw emotion are the hallmarks of Lane’s contribution to the Bluewater Bay contemporary setting, a collaboration among several authors. This erotic romance, set in a small, fictional Washington State town, brings up all the humor and angst of a new relationship and wraps it around a broken hero and his knight in slightly tarnished armor. Connor Montgomery is a closeted Hollywood action star who’s spent the past year in mourning after his lover’s death in a car accident. A new acting project has pulled him from despair and dropped him straight into a picturesque town filled with people who truly care about others—in other words, the complete antithesis of Hollywood. One of those people is Noah, whose confidence and charm help Connor begin to put the pieces of his life back together. The only things hampering their relationship are the closet door and the ghosts of lovers past. The novel’s highs and lows resonate with a stark clarity and realism, particularly the descriptions of paparazzi ruthlessness. The sharp ache of loss underscores the journeys of both Noah and Connor, adding yet another layer to a story that’s as multifaceted as it is sexy. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Undoing

Shelley Laurenston. Kensington, $15 trade paper (374p) ISBN 978-1-61773-509-7

Laurenston’s second Call of Crows contemporary paranormal (after The Unleashing) expands on the premise of rival clans who serve the Norse gods in exchange for power and glory. Jace Berisha is one of the Crows, warrior women resurrected by the goddess Skuld, and easily their most standoffish member. She’s introverted and antisocial in general and a berserker in battle; she doesn’t let anyone get close. That is, until she starts working on a translation project with Ski Eriksen of the Protector clan, who shares her love of books and hatred of small talk. As their friendship grows into romance, they have to focus on the larger picture: a long-forgotten goddess has snuck into the mortal realm and is causing trouble, and it’ll take a unified effort from the normally uncooperative clans to handle this problem. Laurenston adeptly blends humor, romance, and action, her sizable cast fully fleshed out and always entertaining. Laugh-out-loud moments (usually involving large Vikings and small animals) balance the more serious emotional beats and the ongoing looming crisis. Jace and Ski’s romantic arc is thoroughly satisfying, as is the story as a whole. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg, Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Love Walks In

Samantha Chase. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-1625-2

This smoothly paced contemporary with a sexy meet-cute is another hit for Chase’s Shaughnessy Brother’s series (after Made for Us). Runaway bride Aubrey Burke needs to retrieve her suitcase so she can be on the next, and last, flight away from the California wine country resort that was supposed to host her elaborate destination wedding. Unfortunately, this plan requires climbing through the office window of infuriating resort owner Hugh Shaughnessy, and he catches her in the act. Before he can send her on her way, she impresses his business associate with some of her ideas, and the associate insists that Hugh hire her. Analytical and meticulous Hugh finds it increasingly difficult to ignore his attraction to his free-spirited new employee, while Aubrey tries to stay focused on regaining control of her life. The two of them are intensely drawn to each other, but their opposite personalities and painful pasts threaten to stall their growing relationship. Readers will love getting to know this unexpectedly well-matched couple and revisiting the rambunctious Shaughnessy clan. As rock star brother Riley encourages Hugh to live a little, Riley begins to question his own carefree lifestyle—a perfect setup for the next installment. Agent: Mark Gottlieb, Trident Media Group. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Honest and for True

Jane Lebak. Philangelus, $12.99 e-book (312p) ISBN 978-1-942133-10-0

Witty repartee and quips mostly keep this lightly paranormal contemporary romance from being preachy or dull. Brooklyn auto mechanic Lee plays life casual. When she meets a guy, she lies about her career, thinking she’ll “ruin the fun” by revealing that she loves attacking rusted bolts with big wrenches. She is the cool aunt to her niece and the rebel daughter to her parents. And when things go wrong, she calls on her guardian angel, Bucky, to help fix things. Soon she has a fabulous boyfriend named Hal and plenty of fun adventures. The zany situations Lee gets into are comic gold, and her courtship with Hal is sweet and exciting, the way new relationships should be. Lee figures that lying about her job and keeping secrets isn’t a big deal and won’t hurt anyone. But she has huge trust issues, and when crisis strikes her niece, the lies blow up in her face. Hal and Bucky leave, and Lee has to deal with her demons alone. Bucky may be an angel, but he is complex and richly developed, even more so than Lee. Unfortunately, Hal is too boring to be a romantic hero, and Lee’s path to redemption feels rushed. (May)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Story of Kullervo

J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Verlyn Flieger. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (192p) ISBN 978-0-544-70626-2

Aimed more at scholars than at the casual reader, this new edition of an early short story—which dates to the years 1912–1916—offers a taste of fantasies to come from the master of Middle-Earth. Tolkien adapted this fragment from an episode of the Finnish epic Kalevala, and his account of the young son of a fratricide and his tragic destiny would ultimately inform the characters and events of the Silmarillion, the narrative framework for all of his fiction. The story is muddled by name changes midway through its telling and completed from Tolkien’s sketchy notes, but it nevertheless evokes the mythic grandeur that would come to characterize his forays into the fantastic. Transcriptions of Tolkien’s Oxford University lectures on the Kalevala, and editor Flieger’s essay, “Tolkien, Kalevala, and The Story of Kullervo”—in which she describes the tale as “an essential step on Tolkien’s road from adaptation to invention”—provide context for appreciating the nascent genius of one of the 20th century’s greatest fantasists. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Arena

Holly Jennings. Ace, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-1-101-98876-3

Jennings’s debut novel has a strong concept but doesn’t do it justice. In the 2050s, virtual gaming is now a competitive sport in which athletes can “die” and yet keep playing. But the costs are high, as Kali Ling learns when she and her teammates battle to win their game’s highest prize. It feels plausible that competitive video gaming and virtual reality might combine in sports that let viewers enjoy excessive violence with no apparent consequences, and there’s lots of potential for interesting stories with that background. However, the after-school-special nature of the narrative, which boils down to Kali helping her teammates win only after she kicks drugs and stops partying, lacks complexity and fails to engage. Once Kali straightens up and flies right, there’s no stopping her or her team: they win every match, and she outwits her awful manager and has an inevitable relationship with the male character who challenges her life decisions. For a book about fighting, there’s a remarkable lack of real conflict. Agent: Leon Husock, L. Perkins Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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