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A Single Kiss

Grace Burrowes. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4022-7890-7

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Courtroom drama, workplace attractions, and a laundry list of family secrets keep the action and heat coming in historical romance star Burrowes’s first contemporary novel, which launches the Sweetest Kisses series. Single mom Hannah Stark’s budget is decreasing by the day, so she’s thrilled to accept a position as an attorney with a respected law firm in Maryland. Her job is temporarily chock full of family law cases, which bring up awful memories and make her bitterly unhappy, but she’s determined to plow through them and prove herself. Her handsome and chivalrous boss, Trent Knightley, takes an instant liking to Hannah’s tell-it-like-it-is attitude, impressive work ethic, and classic good looks. Although Hannah is secretive to a fault, she begins to surrender to her attraction to Trent and his soothing charm. But when an unhinged lawyer decides that Hannah is the enemy, she must grapple with the stunning collision of her past and future. Burrowes (What a Lady Needs for Christmas), a former family law attorney, sustains a solid plot with slowly unraveling secrets and nicely balances realistic courtroom activity with the heartfelt emotions behind the law. Sweet and believable chemistry warms up the pages of this realistic and satisfying contemporary. Agent: Steve Axelrod, Axelrod Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Gabriel’s Atonement

Vickie McDonough. Barbour/Shiloh Run, $13.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-62836-951-9

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Gabe Coulter regrets having to kill the desperate cowboy who attacked him after losing everything at the gambling table. To assuage his guilt, Gabe tries anonymously returning the money to the man’s widow. Strong frontier woman Lara Talbot, however, refuses to take what she sees as charity, though her family dearly needs it. She would rather help her grandfather gain a tract of free land in the upcoming great land rush. Without revealing his role in her husband’s death, Gabe befriends and assists Lara. Their feelings for one another are complicated by his deception and fear, her stubbornness, and the constant danger from land-hungry “sooners” and revenge-minded thieves. McDonough (Whispers on the Prairie) paints a compelling portrait of the spirit of the 1889 Oklahoma land rush. Themes of faith, forgiveness, and guilt are woven realistically into the characters’ motivations. Secondary characters are a bit flat, and the subplots are left open, perhaps in preparation for a sequel. Regardless, Frontier-fiction fans will find this inspirational and heartwarming. Agency: MacGregor Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Beekeeper’s Son

Kelly Irvin. Zondervan, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-310-33945-8

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Timeless stories of love and loss reach across two generations in this romantic opening to Irvin’s (A Plain Love Song) Amish of Bee County trilogy. Young Deborah Lantz must make the difficult journey from her home in Tennessee to the heat of south Texas with her widowed mother, Abigail, and her younger siblings. Deborah vows to do her duty and help her mother get settled with an old suitor before she makes haste to return to the life, and love, she left behind. Gott (God, however, has other plans for her. One of the first people she encounters in Texas is an emotionally and physically scarred Phineas King, son of the local beekeeper. His pain calls to hers and vice versa, something they both try to deny. The awesome power of faith and family over personal desire dominates this beautifully woven masterpiece. Agent: Mary Sue Seymour, Seymour Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Price of Privilege

Jessica Dotta. Tyndale, $14.99 trade paper (464p) ISBN 978-1-4143-7557-1

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In the final book of a trilogy, Dotta completes the story of Julia Elliston, an emotionally scarred woman who discovers she is an heiress. Though the status of her marriage to Chance Macy is unclear (given questions about Macy’s circumstances), Julia weds Edward, her childhood sweetheart and the local vicar. She believes the hardships plaguing her life are finally over, but her happiness is short-lived. Edward’s parents reject Julia, and his congregation decries him for marrying a scandalous woman. The couple heads to London in search of a fresh start, but unbeknownst to Edward, Julia has blackmailed Macy, who vows to get revenge. Julia’s life disintegrates as it becomes clear that Macy will stop at nothing to conceal the secret Julia holds. The story is told in retrospect from Julia’s point of view and will appeal to readers who like dark romanticism. The vast array of characters and their relationships, however, may prove challenging for those not familiar with the two previous books. Agent: Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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At Home in Last Chance

Cathleen Armstrong. Revell, $13.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-8007-2248-7

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Armstrong continues her popular A Place to Call Home series with this third installment, featuring two black sheep: Kaitlyn Reed, back in Last Chance, N.Mex., after leaving her daughter Olivia with her brother six months earlier; and Steven Braden, a handsome ladies’ man whose family thinks the worst of him. Kaitlyn is rebuilding her relationship with her daughter, working at her own brother’s diner, and trying to figure out her future. Steven, heading off to the police academy in several months, is coming to grips with his past and wondering how Kaitlyn might fit into his future. This likeable tale weaves in several threads from previous books—Chris and Sarah’s nuptials, Ray and Lainie Braden’s return to Last Chance, and the indomitable Elizabeth Cooley, matriarch of them all—while keeping Kaitlyn and Steven front and center. Fans of Last Chance will find much to love here. Agent: Karen Solem, Spencerhill Associates. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Black Moon Draw

Lizzy Ford. Kettlecorn, $2.99 e-book (320p) ISBN 978-1-62378-159-0

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Dumped and heartbroken, Naia loses herself in wine and falls asleep reading an online romance novel, which features the Shadow Knight of Black Moon Draw. Upon awakening, she finds herself in the world of Black Moon Draw itself—and she’s the Shadow Knight’s new battle-witch, according to a nearby panther-headed minion. Apparently battle-witches tend to get killed off quickly in these parts, despite their ability to regrow severed limbs. In quick succession, she falls in with the Red Knight of White Tree Sound, rescues a kidnapping victim, and is captured by the dread but good-smelling Shadow Knight, who promptly chops off her hand to prove that she is a witch. The Shadow Knight is clearly villainous, as well as engaged to be married, but Naia decides nonetheless to save him and his kingdom from a thousand-year curse, no matter whether she ends up in his world for good. Ford gives herself a cameo role as “LF,” author of the novel that Nina was reading—a ridiculous cherry atop an endearingly silly sundae. This is a fine light read for a rainy afternoon. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Surrender

Violetta Rand. Loveswept, $2.99 e-book (240p) ISBN 978-1-101-88267-2

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The Devil’s Den contemporary series launch brings spectacularly hot chemistry to a cast of unsympathetic characters with nobody to cheer for. Robyn Gonzalez is a virginal sweetheart fleeing her abusive family. She needs to pay for college, so she becomes a stripper at a sleazy club in Corpus Christie, Tex. After she encounters a Mexican drug dealer who’s a walking cliché, her common sense and dignity vanish, and she runs into the arms of Garrick Dempsey, the club’s possessive, manipulative bouncer. As Robyn feebly protests that she wants to maintain her independence, Garrick issues edicts about what kinds of work Robyn can do, lays out rules and boundaries, and educates her on why women need men to protect them. Texan readers who pick this up for the setting may be dismayed to see it used to excuse an abundance of misogyny and sexual violence. Only the frequent, genuinely hot sex scenes provide any redemption for an unpleasant story. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress

Theresa Romain. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-4022-8405-2

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Romain concludes her Matchmaker Regency trilogy (after To Charm a Naughty Countess) with irresistible brio and wit. Augusta Meredith, who has money from her family’s cosmetics fortune but no title, is used to circling the edges of the beau monde. Marrying the right man could give her access to the inner circle, but the only fellows buzzing near her are pathetic fortune-hunting losers. So she accompanies a friend to Bath for a change of scene—and name, registering as Mrs. John Flowers in order to escape the taint of industry and the inevitable fortune hunters. The trip is already going poorly when Josiah “Joss” Everett recognizes her. Everett, who’s also an outsider of sorts, agrees to keep her secret if she will reciprocate by keeping mum about his reasons for being in Bath, which involve blackmail and Joss’s adulterous cousin, Baron Sutcliffe. It’s all good deceptive fun as the cat-and-mouse games are augmented by spirited repartee, with comic relief provided by Sutcliffe and his wife. Charming characters and great dialogue triumph over a slender plot. Agent: Paige Wheeler, Folio Literary Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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You Really Got Me

Erika Kelly. Berkley Sensation, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-425-27728-7

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Kelly kicks off the Rock Star Romance series with a curious tale about musicians and music industry professionals who care little for music. Emmie Valencia is the personal assistant to powerful record company executive Irwin Ledger. Her ambition to become an executive is hampered by his poor opinion of her, so she sets out to help her brother’s band into the big time. Her efforts are complicated by her feelings for the band’s lead singer, Slater Vaughn. Kelly’s writing has repetitious composition, weak characterization, and poor development. Supporting characters are never fleshed out. The band’s musical style is barely defined, though much attention is paid to hair styles and fashion choices. At one point Emmie admits that she doesn’t care about music, has barely developed her personal taste, and is more interested in the people than the art. These choices seem odd considering the series theme. After a few vague and uninspired sex scenes, the narrative concludes on a happy note, if not an earned and satisfying resolution. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Freedom to Love

Susanna Fraser. Carina, $4.99 e-book (173p) ISBN 978-1-4268-9944-7

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Fraser (A Christmas Reunion) treads well-trampled literary ground in this middling historical. British officer Henry Farlow is seriously wounded at the Battle of New Orleans. He wanders onto an abandoned Louisiana plantation just in time to find half-sisters Thérèse and Jeannette Bondurant digging up a cache of jewels, the sole legacy left to the mixed-race girls by their irresponsible father. The young women agree to clandestinely treat Henry’s wounds at their late father’s empty house—and are startled by the arrival of the siblings’ white relatives, come to take ownership of the property. When Henry kills a man in defense of 13-year-old Jeannette, the sisters and their unexpected champion dodge prosecution and embark on a dangerous trip to England. Thérèse and Henry fall passionately in love, but an outside threat leaves Thérèse to make a difficult decision that’s plot-mandated but entirely out of character. Fraser’s a bit weak on the finer historical points, and the story leans toward the formulaic, but readers who don’t mind a lightweight story will appreciate the believable relationships among the three central figures. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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