Conflict Makes Love That Much Sweeter | Romance Reviews

UNCOMMON PAIRINGS While romance heroes and heroines often come from the same backgrounds, ensuring that the conflicts between them have other causes, many do not. And most often these disparities are economics- or class-based, especially in historical novels, in which social position is a birthright and of vast importance. Yet contemporary romances have their share of rich-girl/poor-boy, boy/girl-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks/old-money-scion plots, as well. Feuding families have long been popular, and, more recently, age, race/ethnicity, and physical/intellectual concerns—and on rare occasions adultery—have successfully added to the mix. Granted, these couples are not classically star-crossed (e.g., Romeo and Juliet) because they do find their happy endings, but getting there is just a little bit harder.

A TOUCH STAR-CROSSED

redstarDare, Tessa. The Duchess Deal. Avon. (Girl Meets Duke, Bk. 1). Sept. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780062349064. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062349071. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

The last thing seamstress Emma Gladstone expects when she confronts the battle-scarred Duke of Ashbury to demand payment for the wedding dress she made for his former fiancée—even though the wedding had already been called off—is an offer of marriage. Disbelieving, Emma resists, but Ashbury needs an heir, and Emma appears to be the one person who sees through his physical injuries to the caring, honorable man beneath. A marriage of convenience allows these appealing protagonists to learn to love and let go of the past. The story is enriched by a cast of exceptional secondary characters (a young street urchin is delightful) and a “Monster of Mayfair” hero who finds ways to make the most of his flaws. ­VERDICT Sexy, tender, and wickedly funny, Dare’s newest offering is a spirited tale with a Beauty-and-the-Beast theme and the perfect launch for her latest series. Dare (Do You Want To Start a Scandal) lives in Southern California.

redstarJordan, Sophie. The Scandal of It All. Avon. (Rogue Files, Bk. 2). Aug. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780062463623. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062463630. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Widowed for ten years but still in her thirties, Graciela, Duchess of Autenberry, is jarred into reassessing her future when a good friend is killed in a riding accident. Life is short, and she needs to discover what she can’t live without—so she’s going to begin by taking a lover. Things go awry when her first foray into a notorious pleasure club ends up in a searing kiss with a man who is totally off-limits. Colin, Earl of Strickland, is her stepson’s best friend and someone she has known since his boyhood. Colin persists, and Ela stands firm, until fate steps in and turns their worlds upside down. VERDICT Sexy, racy, and simmering with heart-pounding sensuality and pent-up passion, Jordan’s latest romp is just plain fun; a delightful addition to her rogue-rich series. Jordan (While the Duke Was Sleeping) lives in Houston.

Long, Julie Anne. Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap. Avon. (Hellcat Canyon, Bk. 3). Sept. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780062672889. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062672896. contemporary romance

Returning to California’s Hellcat Canyon to reevaluate her situation after she catches her lover–slash–business partner in bed with their intern, tech company CEO Avalon Harwood takes a proactive step and outbids her competition for the old Coltrane mansion at Devil’s Leap. But Mac Coltrane, owner of the adjoining property and the mansion’s current groundskeeper (as well as Ava’s first love), wants his family’s home back. And so the battle lines are drawn, with a troop of pint-sized, chattering girls, bleating goats, fragrant cow manure, and ear-splitting music only a few of the creative annoyances they lob at each other as they both play to win. Snappy dialog, spirited rivalry, and laugh-out-loud humor keep the pace swift and the plot on track as this stubborn pair finally come to terms with their pasts. VERDICT An entertaining romance that adds new dimension to this engaging series. Long (Wild at Whiskey Creek) lives in Northern California.

Malpas, Jodi Ellen. The Forbidden. Forever: Grand Central. Aug. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781455568215. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455568222. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Appalled to realize that she just spent the night—a glorious night to be sure—with a stranger, Annie quietly leaves, determined to forget it ever happened. But when he turns out to be Jack Joseph, the contractor working with Annie’s newest client on a building she designed, she can’t let go of the memory. Jack, who is married, can’t forget either, and when the temptation proves too great, they give in, though they both know there’s only one way this can end—or is there? VERDICT Introspective and suffused with angst, this very British, very modern story with a New Age slant takes on the taboo topic of infidelity in a brave, cutting-edge romance. While not for everyone, this is a worthwhile read. Malpas (The Protector) lives in Northampton, England.

Rai, Alisha. Hate To Want You. Avon. (Forbidden Hearts, Bk. 1). Aug. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780062566737. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062566713. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Ten years ago, a devastating tragedy shattered the business and personal relationships between Olivia Kane’s and Nicholas Chandler’s families, making it impossible for the two to be together. Their solution is that Livvy would text Nicholas every year on her birthday, wherever she was in the world, and he would meet her for one ardent night, giving them the chance to be who they once were. But Livvy has come back to town, if only temporarily, and her presence not only dredges up the past, it zeroes in on their relationship—if only Livvy and Nico can get on the same page and figure out how to make things right. Jealousy, resentment, and betrayal are at the core of the conflict in this story, a pattern card for dysfunctional families. VERDICT Emotional anguish; page-­singeing, explicit sex; relatable, sympathetic protagonists; and a realistic, well-crafted plot add up to an irresistible read that erotic romance fans will be sure to savor. Rai (Serving Pleasure) lives in Washington, DC.

MADE FOR EACH OTHER

redstarBurrowes, Grace. Too Scot To Handle. Forever: Grand Central. (Windham Brides, Bk. 2). Jul. 2017. 346p. ISBN 9781455569991. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455569984. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

All former army captain Colin MacHugh wants is to go home to Scotland and his flourishing whiskey business. However, with his brother a newly minted duke, ­Colin is now a courtesy lord and expected to take his place in the ton. If only he’d known how tedious simpering, marriageable misses and their predatory mothers and the heedless, unproductive lives of the younger bachelor set could be. Yet Anwen Windham, his new sister-in-law, is anything but boring. She asks for his help in keeping the House of Urchins, an orphanage for disadvantaged boys, from closing, and he agrees—and ends up as intrigued by the savvy, street-wise youngsters as he is by the surprisingly fierce Anwen. Danger from an unexpected source adds an edge of mystery to a romance that pokes fun at the stilted, often frivolous values of society and highlights social issues of the time. VERDICT A take-charge hero and a flame-haired heroine with the gumption to match see that justice is done in this well-plotted, beautifully written story made all the more satisfying by its delightful secondary characters (the urchins are marvelous). Burrowes (The Trouble with Dukes) lives in rural Maryland.

redstarDodd, Christina. The Woman Who Couldn’t Scream. St. Martin’s. (Virtue Falls, Bk. 4). Sept. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781250028488. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250028495. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

With her future destroyed by an explosion aboard an airplane and her fiancé supposedly dead, Merida Falcon (aka Helen Brassard, Merry Bird) reluctantly agrees to a trophy-wife marriage in exchange for the reconstructive surgery that will turn her into a beauty. Nine years later, her cruel, controlling husband is dead, and Merida heads for the solitude and anonymity of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, intent on bringing down those who caused the accident that left her disfigured and unable to speak. Yet the tiny town of Virtue Falls is not the haven for which she’d hoped. When people from her past, including her former fiancé Benedict Howard, show up and the whispered phone calls begin, ­Merida knows she’s no longer safe—and then the gruesome killings start. Intriguing characters (including an especially horrifying villain), twin romances (­Kateri and Stag’s prickly sparring as well as Merida and Benedict’s trust-challenged bond), and a complex plot that reveals itself with chilling precision keep the pages turning. VERDICT Tense, taut, and beautifully paced, this latest addition to Dodd’s series is another stunner; it will appeal to romance and suspense fans alike. Dodd (Because I’m Watching) lives in Washington State. [See Prepub Alert, 3/27/17.]

Finz, Stacy. Need You. Zebra Shout: Kensington. (Garner Brothers, Bk. 1). Aug. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781420141900. pap. $4.99; ebk. ISBN 9781420141917. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Determined to regain her life and career after her underhanded ex-husband got their successful fashion business and the brand name (hers!) in their bitter divorce, L.A. high-fashion designer ­Delaney Scott retreats to her Glory Junction vacation home to heal and work on her new collection. But Delaney’s creative juices aren’t flowing, her designs are dismal, and, to top it off, she’s feuding over a parking spot with her annoying next-door neighbor, Police Chief Colt Garner. Verbal barbs fly and sexual tension sizzles as Delaney and “Chief Hottie from Hell” wage a losing battle with an attraction they know has no future but just can’t deny. Trust and conflicting career goals keep the emotional storm raging in this heartfelt romance enhanced by a profusion of entertaining townsfolk and relatives, a villain or two, and a breathtaking Sierra Nevada setting. VERDICT Sweet humor, well-defined and appealing characters, and just enough adventure sports and fashion detail make Finz’s print debut, and series launch, a delightful read. Finz (Falling Hard) lives in Berkeley, CA.

Mallery, Susan. You Say It First. HQN: Harlequin. (Happily, Inc., Bk. 1). Sept. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780373799336. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488028441. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Pallas Saunders is determined to make a success of her quirky, theme-based wedding business, Weddings in a Box, if for no other reason than to avoid having to go into the family banking business if she doesn’t. She can hardly believe her luck when world-famous sculptor Nick Mitchell is between projects and agrees to restore some carved wood panels for her. But Nick is not only enjoying the whole wedding operation, he’s attracted to ­Pallas, as well. A plentiful cast of supporting characters—Nick’s artist brothers are memorable—add depth to the plot, while colorful descriptions of the wildly creative wedding plans and settings are sure to fascinate. VERDICT An inventive heroine who comes into her own and a caring hero who figures out what’s important give in to love in this lighthearted romance. Mallery (Secrets of the Tulip ­Sisters) lives in Seattle.

Morgan, Sarah. Holiday in the Hamptons. HQN: Harlequin. (From Manhattan with Love, Bk. 5). Sept. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780373803996. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488022715. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Felicity Knight adores New York City and the successful dog-walking business she runs with her twin sister, Harriet, until her ex-husband, veterinarian Seth Carlyle, whom she hasn’t seen in ten years, temporarily fills in at the clinic they use. Fliss refuses to run into him, so when her grandmother calls saying she needs help after her surgery, Fliss loads up the car and heads for the Hamptons—and safety. But Seth lives and practices in the Hamptons, not the city. When Fliss ­almost hits a dog that turns out to be Seth’s, she impulsively tells him she’s sensible Harriet, setting the stage for a comedy of errors that is as hilarious as it is romantic. ­VERDICT Sweet, sexy, and funny, this addictive tale exudes seaside charm and canine affection and delightfully keeps its promise of a happy ending. Morgan (New York, Actually) lives near London, England.

Putney, Mary Jo. Once a Rebel. Zebra: Kensington. (Rogues Redeemed, Bk. 2). Sept. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781420140941. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781420140958. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Lord Gordon Audley accepts a mission to America to rescue an English widow and return her to her family during the final days of the War of 1812. He arrives just in time to prevent her from being attacked and is shocked to find that the widow in question is his childhood friend Callista. Viciously torn apart as teenagers, they were sent from England—Callie to marry a Jamaican planter and Gordon to the Australian penal colony—and they hadn’t seen each other since. Yet the connection between them hasn’t weakened, and as they make their way through the war-torn countryside toward Baltimore and what remains of ­Callie’s stepfamily, they see their childhood friendship slowly growing into something more. With superbly drawn characters (including historical figures such as Francis Scott Key); a setting so vivid one can taste the lemonade and smell the gunpowder; and a gripping plot that addresses the harsh realities of slavery, prejudice, cruelty, and abuse. VERDICT Valiant, resourceful protagonists fight for each other against incredible odds in a story that deftly balances fascinating historical detail, adventure, and menace with a passionate romance. ­Another “redeemed rogue” gets the future he deserves. Putney (Once a Soldier) lives in Baltimore.

Rose, Karen. The Monster in the Closet. Berkley. (Baltimore, Bk. 5). Sept. 2017. 512p. ISBN 9780399586767. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780399586774. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

Ever since 11-year-old Jazzie found her mother’s bloody body and knew who had killed her, she hasn’t spoken a word. Now, at Healing Hearts with Horses, a ranch-based program that specializes in working with traumatized children, Jazzie connects with summer intern ­Taylor Dawson, a fledgling therapist who has lived through a terrifying childhood of her own. But Jazzie’s progress goads a clever killer into action—and he’s not about to leave any loose ends. A swift pace, meticulous detail, and a generous, distinctive cast of both new and familiar characters, including loyal Ford Elkhart, bring this race against time to life. A riveting story that skillfully weaves multiple viewpoints and plot threads into a satisfying whole. VERDICT Touching, warmly loving, and steeped in terrifying fears no child should ever know, this heart-­stopping thriller delivers on all counts. Rose (Every Dark Corner) lives in Florida.

HOLIDAY TEASERS

Anderson, Catherine. The Christmas Room. Berkley. Oct. 2017. 432p. ISBN 9780399586316. $19; ebk. ISBN 9780399586330. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Rancher Sam Conacher is furious when he sees his grown daughter, Kirstin, in an embrace with Cameron McLendon. He storms over to the McLendons’ home to give Cam a piece of his mind, but the verbal sparks fly when he encounters instead Cam’s mystery-author mom, ­Maddie. In spite of himself, Sam can’t help but admire her Irish sass. Nevertheless, the antagonism continues to simmer between them, and it isn’t until a near-fatal accident brings them to their senses that they can begin to understand each other and take the first steps toward friendship—and explore what might lie beyond. Two independent and successful but inwardly lonely souls finally come to terms with their grief and risk love again in this family-centered story graced with laughter, plain-speaking, and majestic descriptions of modern-day Montana. VERDICT Poignant and tender, this earnest romance brings two couples together as they confront the difficult themes of illness and loss with insight and a dusting of holiday charm. Anderson (Mulberry Moon) lives in rural Oregon.

Roberts, Sheila. Christmas in Icicle Falls. Mira: Harlequin. (Icicle Falls, Bk. 11). Nov. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780778330790. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488023583. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

When the artificial Christmas tree ordered by Muriel Sterling-Wittman, author of A Guide to Happy Holidays, turns out to be a sorry excuse for a holiday decoration, she decides it deserves a chance to be beautiful—just needing a bit of TLC. It ends up being a gorgeous success, but the idea that all things have potential and can be improved with some affection takes root, sparking a holiday project among ­Muriel’s friends to look for the good in the Ugly Trees (i.e., ­difficult people) and send love their way. A curmudgeonly neighbor, a thorny ex-­husband, a lousy landlord, and a rough-around-the-edges daughter-in-law are only a few of those who feel the effects of extra caring in this playful story that will leave fans hopeful and smiling. Recipes at the end are a plus. VERDICT A lovely blend of romance and women’s fiction, this insightful holiday treat hits all the right notes and ties up some loose ends as the “Icicle Falls” series finds its perfect finale. Roberts (Starting Over on Blackberry Lane) lives in the Pacific Northwest.

SECOND TIME AROUND

Jackson, Lisa. Double Exposure. Severn House. Aug. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780727887061. $28.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Torn apart eight years ago by circumstance and a secret, Olympic skier Gavin Doel and newspaper photographer ­Melanie Brooks are forced to work together when Gavin returns to the small Oregon town where they both grew up to reopen the old ski lodge. Despite mutual distrust, the chemistry is still there. An early series romance from well-known mystery suspense author Jackson, this was first published in 1990 as a ­Silhouette Special Edition.

Roberts, Nora. Untamed. Severn House. Aug. 2017. 244p. ISBN 9780727887153. $28.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

A brilliant lion trainer who’s grown up in the circus is unexpectedly attracted to the Chicago lawyer who inherited the show from his father and controls its future in this classic early series romance that bursts with exceptional three-ring detail; originally a 1983 Silhouette ­Romance.

Sands, Lynsay. Bliss. Avon. Aug. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780062019615. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062013231. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

When King Henry orders Lady Helen Tiernay and Lord Hethe, the fierce Hammer of Holden, to wed, he simply wants to put an end to their constant complaints about each other. Lady Helen has no intention of marrying a man whom she thinks treats his people so cruelly, which sets the stage for a steamy escapade that is all the more hilarious when Lord Hethe sees through her devious plans. This 12th-century historical was first published by Leisure Books in 2001 and is an early title from Sands, currently noted for her popular “Argeneau/Rogue Hunter Vampire” paranormal series.

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About Kristin Ramsdell

Kristin Ramsdell is Librarian Emerita, California State University, East Bay. She is the author of the romance section of What Do I Read Next? A Reader's Guide to Current Genre Fiction (Gale, annual) and Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre (Libraries Unlimited)

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