Elizabeth Mazer

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Gretchen Acorn is an ethical scammer. Yes, she pretends to be psychic, digging up info on deceased loved ones via social media, but she helps her clients. She brings them peace of mind, and that’s priceless, right? Or at least, priced low enough to not dent the accounts of the wealthy socialites she scams. And if she has to lie to herself a little to believe she’s not as destructive as her con artist father, then so be it. Gretchen’s very good at lying. But when her best client hires her to exorcise a friend’s goat farm so he can sell it, she’s the one who gets spooked to discover, well, an actual spook. The place is haunted by Everett, a charming, chatty, wildly flirtatious (just because he’s dead doesn’t mean he’s dead) spirit only Gretchen can see—and he carries an ominous warning. Everett triggered a curse years ago, and now the farm has to stay in the family. If the current owner, Charlie Waybill, sells the place and leaves, he’ll die. Not an easy message to pass on, especially when the (very hot, very grumpy, very skeptical) Charlie believes everything about Gretchen is a lie.

Happy Medium follows author Sarah Adler’s absolutely amazing debut, Mrs. Nash’s Ashes. Like its predecessor, Happy Medium is a grumpy-sunshine romance and, admittedly, Charlie works slightly less well than Mrs. Nash’s Ashes’ Hollis. While Charlie’s suspicion of Gretchen’s claims is natural, his continued harshness toward someone who’s actively helping him, with no personal benefit, feels a little extreme. But the way Adler shades her sunshine heroines is so lovely. Gretchen’s not exactly optimistic—she’d describe herself as ruthlessly practical—but her drive to do good, to seek out the positive, to embrace the weirdness of life instead of letting it throw her off course resonates throughout the book. She lights up the page, bringing more than just the farm (and Charlie’s heart) to life. You completely get why her customers always leave satisfied, and Adler’s readers will leave Happy Medium feeling the same way.

Sarah Adler’s grumpy-sunshine romance presents a delightful twist on the “sunshine” half: a ruthlessly practical scammer with a heart of gold.
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Everyone wants a shortcut to love, especially if a happily ever after is guaranteed. So it’s not surprising that Justin Dahl gets a big response when he explains his gift (or curse) on Reddit: Whoever he dates goes on to meet her perfect match right after things end with him. To his shock, Justin soon hears from Emma, a woman with the same problem. What starts as a half-joking suggestion soon starts to form into a real plan—what if they date each other? Wouldn’t that mean instead of being merely the gateway to love, they could finally have it for themselves . . . right after they break up?

It’s a fun premise, but if you think the plot stays frothy and candy-colored, then you don’t know author Abby Jimenez. Yes, Justin and Emma connect via meet cute (meet unusual, to be more precise) at the beginning of Just for the Summer, but Jimenez quickly develops the characters beyond rom-com archetypes as they deal with challenges that aren’t in the least bit quirky, overblown or played for laughs. Justin and Emma have amazing chemistry and terrific banter, but they also have genuine problems, including family catastrophes, emotional trauma, heavy responsibilities and—in Emma’s case—a mother best compared to a malfunctioning time bomb, set to blow everything up with no clear countdown. Just for the Summer has plenty of humor (a scene with baby raccoons being a personal favorite), but the emotions are real. The turmoil is real. The problems the characters face don’t come with easy answers or magic cures.

The story showcases an absolutely gorgeous outpouring of love in tandem with Emma and Justin’s delightful and warm central romance. Jimenez portrays a range of complex, interesting familial relationships, as well as some amazing friendships—particularly Emma’s with her bestie, Maddy. In Just for the Summer, even when love is difficult and devastating and very possibly cursed, it’s always worth it.

In Abby Jimenez’s Just for the Summer, two people cursed a la “Good Luck Chuck” try to break their unlucky streaks by dating each other—only to fall in love.
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Confession time: Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel. There’s just something about it that speaks to me. It’s the idea of growing into the person you’re supposed to be, into the love you’re finally ready to have. The fact that love doesn’t come easily or quickly makes it all the sweeter when it finally falls into place.

That sweetness is front and center in Melodie Edwards’ modernization of Persuasion, Once Persuaded, Twice Shy. Our present-day Anne Elliot is the executive director of a theater festival, which allows her, as in the original, to quietly keep the world running from behind the scenes. But her tidy, well-controlled life is thrown into a tailspin when her ex, Ben Wentworth, reappears in her life, eager to show her how completely and entirely he’s moved on. The quaint Canadian town of Niagara-on-the-Lake supplies the two of them with an ample supporting cast of lovable, quirky, exasperating and endearing characters, but it’s the enduring connection between Anne and Ben that’s the real draw. As they find their way back to each other, they also find their way back to the truest versions of themselves, letting go of old hurts and old burdens and old grudges along the way.

Of course, there are elements that get left behind when a story is transposed to a new time or place. (The author wisely addresses this in a letter to readers that gives context to some of her choices.) Will fans of the original miss the things that got lost in translation? They might. I missed the Harvilles, Captain Benwick and the whole boisterous Musgrove clan—even Mary, hypochondriacal misanthrope that she is. But Edwards’ update has plenty of compensations: There’s warmth, humor, Taylor Swift lyrics for every conceivable scenario and a love story that blooms as beautifully today as it did 200 years ago. The plot takes unexpected twists and turns, tied together with beloved tropes. And the grand finale is a happily ever after that certainly persuaded me, and that I believe will persuade you, too.

Once Persuaded, Twice Shy, Melodie Edwards’ modernization of Persuasion, is a sweet and often surprising take on Jane Austen’s classic novel.
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If you’re looking for the rom-commiest rom-com to ever rom or com, then look no further. Do you like stories with the rich and/or popular guy falling for the non-skinny, non-famous, non-glamorous girl? How about opposites attract? Maybe you want a fake relationship where a kiss just for show ends up feeling all too real? Or how about that perennial classic, There Was Only One Bed? You’ll find all of that and more in Charlotte Stein’s When Grumpy Met Sunshine, and if you think it sounds like too much, you’re wrong—it’s exactly enough, and a blast from start to finish.

The story opens with an epic meet-ugly. Alfie Harding meets Mabel Willicker when she’s introduced as the ghostwriter for his memoir. Alfie, a superstar Premier League footballer bearing an unmistakable resemblance to “Ted Lasso” ’s Roy Kent, is armored in black clothes, a bristling black beard, a 10-inch-deep frown and a voice that sounds “like very churlish gravel being shoved through an extremely sullen cement mixer.” Mabel, meanwhile, is in a pastel pink dress, with a plate of fairy cakes she baked for the occasion. Needless to say, the first meeting does not go well. But when they finally get to talking after another couple of hilariously disastrous encounters, they realize that they understand each other almost eerily well. As she uncovers unexpected bits and pieces about Alfie’s thoughts and feelings, Mabel also has the chance to unpack her own baggage. One wishes Stein allowed herself to linger longer on this part of the story, given how deeply enjoyable it is to watch her develop these characters and the increasingly rich connection between them. But the rom must com, so when the paparazzi spot Alfie with Mabel and the internet explodes with speculation, they soon end up in a fake relationship. Cue moments that are awkward to the max and growing sexual tension as all the pretending becomes less and less pretend. (FYI, this book definitely knows how to bring the heat.)

The similarities to “Ted Lasso” (not just Roy-core Alfie but also Mabel’s eventual editor, clearly modeled after the mustached coach himself) don’t stop with the characters. The warmth that drew people to that show—the joy of spending time with characters you genuinely like, who reveal themselves to be smarter and quirkier and more interesting than you expected—permeates the whole book. The tropes give the story its structure, but Stein adds heart and creativity that elevate it into something genuinely delightful. Mabel’s wry, funny voice is charming from the very start. (Seriously, just check out the book’s table of contents. The chapter titles alone will have you giggling.) And readers will absolutely adore Alfie who, behind his bristle, is as genuinely kind, genuinely chivalrous and genuinely, passionately devoted as any hero in recent memory. When Grumpy Met Sunshine is a classic feel-good story that’ll remind you why we all love rom-coms in the first place.

When Grumpy Met Sunshine has a very Roy Kent-esque hero, but the similarities to “Ted Lasso” don’t stop there: Warmth and joy permeate the entire book.
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For the first time in four years, Levi Matthews is returning to the winter wonderland that is Carrigan’s, the inn and Christmas tree farm where he grew up. The oldest child of the inn’s handyman and cook, Levi’s childhood was spent alongside Carrigan’s heir apparent, Hannah Rosenstein. Hannah visited her great-aunt’s inn as often as possible, much to the bemusement of her globe-trotting documentary filmmaker parents. Hannah’s only dream was to permanently live in the place she loved best, stable and settled with Levi, the person she loved most. But one person’s safe haven is another person’s stifling prison: The pansexual Levi was bullied as a child for all the ways he diverged from the small-town norm, whether it was his love of cooking or flamboyant appearance. Hence a painful, messy break ensued when Levi left to find himself and Hannah stayed behind. As For Never & Always begins, Levi, now a successful celebrity chef, returns home for Passover, knowing that he doesn’t want to contemplate a future without Hannah. But before they can find happiness, they’ll have to grapple not just with baggage from the past but also with an age-old question: A bird may love a fish, but where would they build their home?

Anyone familiar with the vibrant cast of characters at Carrigan’s, who were introduced in author Helena Greer’s debut, Season of Love, will know to expect plenty of humor and warmth baked into powerfully sweet relationships. In addition to its central romance, For Never & Always tells many love stories about friendship and family—by choice as well as by birth—all flawlessly illustrated in small, telling gestures. Even more to its credit, it doesn’t shy away from the things that love can’t fix. When Hannah and Levi were younger, they would default to sex to paper over the cracks in their relationship, whether it was Hannah’s anxiety or Levi’s increasing desire to leave Carrigan’s. Growing up means admitting that they need to address their problems openly, talk about what they’re feeling and really listen to each other.

For Never & Always is a wonderful example of what readers love about second-chance romances: a couple that is now ready for happily ever after in a way that they weren’t before. A forever love takes time, commitment and a level of maturity that you may not have when that first rush of love sweeps you away. The fact that Levi and Hannah are willing to wait and work for it is exactly what makes their happy ending feel so joyful and blessed.

With its hard-won happy ending, For Never & Always is a wonderful example of why readers love second-chance romances.
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Samira Abdel-Aziz might be in want of a husband but she’s definitely not in want of suitors, having received a slew of what she calls “doorknock appeals” arranged by her traditional Muslim family. But finding one with actual appeal—one who isn’t too “fundy” or too secular, too stylized (she nicknames an excessively gelled suitor “Manga Boy”) or too frumpy, too judgmental or too indifferent—is quite another matter entirely. Things finally start falling into place after a meet cute with the surprisingly charming Menem, but the road to happiness is still long, winding and stuffed with awkward family dinners, nosy relatives and unexpected jealousy from her friend (and former crush), Hakeem.

Amal Awad’s Courting Samira might be best described as an Australian Muslim Bridget Jones. Like Bridget, Samira is a wry, endearing woman with big dreams of what love should look like (e.g. the final kissing scene in The Princess Bride) but minimal success when it comes to figuring out how to get what she wants. Awad warmly displays the formal propriety of Arab Muslim courtship while still highlighting the humor of it all, along with an amused appreciation of its parallels to the Regency world of Jane Austen. (Let’s face it, if Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse magically came to life in our modern world, a doorknock appeal would make a lot more sense to them than Netflix and chill.) However, while the love story Samira experiences may be chaste, it doesn’t feel dated or old-fashioned. Searching for romance is never easy and happiness is never where you expect to find it, but somehow, love will always manage to find a way.

Amal Awad’s Courting Samira is best described as a wry, endearing Bridget Jones set in Sydney’s Muslim community.
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What’s the best part of vacation? Is it sugar-white beaches and lots of tropical-themed drinks? Maybe the real allure is just the chance to get away from your everyday life: no alarm clocks, no deadlines, no crowded cubicles or the smell of fish cooking in the office microwave. But if that’s the case, then what would you do if you got all of the expected perks of vacation—but the worst, most annoying part of your job came with you?

That’s the situation Margaret finds herself in when she wins the coveted office quiz prize—an all-expense-paid trip to Zanzibar—but is forced to share it with the officemate she detests, Jagger. He’s everything she can’t stand: a clickbait writer at the same South African newspaper where she writes hard-hitting journalism; a popular playboy while Margaret’s love life is dead in the water; and worst of all, someone who coasts through life even as Margaret struggles with the one-two punch of her divorce and the death of her father. Jagger’s lighthearted attitude seems like a taunt, and tension between them has risen so high that Margaret added an actual, physical partition to their shared workspace to avoid having to see his smug face. But there’s no hiding from him at the beachfront Zanzibar resort, no matter how hard she tries . . . and it becomes harder and harder to ignore the way irritation is giving way to attraction—and maybe something more.

If you like an opposites-attract story, then you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more clear-cut example than Jo Watson’s What Happens on Vacation. The enemies-to-lovers vibe delivers: Margaret doesn’t have a single kind thought toward Jagger until quite far into the book, with Watson leaning in to humor and sharp repartee during their interactions. It’s a bit too sharp in spots—Margaret’s assumptions can be rather judgmental and harsh, especially since Jagger never retaliates. But Watson portrays Margaret’s struggles so honestly, especially her grief over the loss of her father, that it’s easy to understand why Margaret feels the need to build walls around herself. And Jagger is genuinely charming as he works to bring those walls down. Vacation’s really about letting yourself let go—of stress, cares, worries and doubts. And that’s exactly what happens on vacation for Margaret as she opens the door to love.

Fans of opposites-attract and enemies-to-lovers romances will be well-satisfied by Jo Watson’s What Happens on Vacation.
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There’s something strange, magical and maybe a little tragic about being a preteen girl. You’re not really a kid anymore, but you’re definitely not an adult. Your body is changing in ways that are weird, uncomfortable and deeply embarrassing. But at the same time, it’s so easy to imagine how it’ll all work out, that just around the corner, you’ll be in high school—doing cool and daring things, having epic romances, blossoming into someone gorgeous, confident and desirable, like a character from Sweet Valley High. For most people, a little bit of magic goes out of the world as you realize that growing up never really goes according to plan. But . . . what if you could get some of that magic back?

When Georgie Mulcahy returns to her Virginia hometown at the beginning of Kate Clayborn’s Georgie, All Along, her story is that she’s there to help her best friend, who’s about to have a baby. The truth is that she doesn’t know what to do with herself. After years working as a personal assistant to various Hollywood types, she’s great at managing other people’s lives but way less skilled at figuring out what she might want to do with her own. But while rummaging  through old boxes at her friend’s place, Georgie finds a diary their preteen selves filled with dreams about all the amazing things they would do in high school. The lists are a decade and a half old, but better late than never! Georgie hopes that checking off her younger self’s wish list will help her recapture her spark. And best of all, she has a partner in crime in her quest: Levi Fanning, reformed bad boy and the older brother of her former crush. 

Georgie is a very appealing heroine: warm and vibrant with irrepressible enthusiasm for even the more outlandish ideas. And Levi, despite his initial awkwardness, balances her out, giving her dreams a steadier foundation and paying attention to all the little things that make a dream special. Neither had the best reputation when they were actually in high school, and it’s sweet to see how healing it is for both of them to reclaim some of the experiences they never really got to have. Clayborn takes teen movie tropes and gently tweaks them into something more colorful and messy and real. The prodigal daughter comes home—but doesn’t immediately discover her dream bakery or bookstore waiting for her. She reunites with the boy of her preteen dreams, who is still handsome, charming and appealing—but it’s his gruff brother she falls for. The bad boy is reformed—but he carries a lot of baggage that he and the prodigal daughter have to work through together. 

Life and love aren’t as clean and simple as we think they’ll be when we’re younger. But as Georgie, All Along sweetly attests, the pitfalls and struggles along the way make the happily ever after all the more worth it.

Kate Clayborn’s small-town romance takes teen movie tropes and gently tweaks them into something more colorful and messy and real.
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We’re living in an age of reboots. Everywhere you turn, another classic show or movie is getting a fresh start or a cast reunion. So it feels very much of the moment to have a romance set during the production of a beloved TV series’ 20th anniversary special.

The Reunion, Kayla Olson’s adult debut, opens as Liv Latimer, star of the groundbreaking, wildly popular six-season smash-hit series “Girl on the Verge,” steps back into the shoes of her character, Honor St. Croix. Her return to playing Honor comes with a return to the spotlight—which she mostly shunned after the show ended, choosing to stick to smaller indie movies instead—and a return to Ransom Joel. Ransom was Liv’s co-star, best friend, on-screen love interest and longtime real-life secret crush. In the years since “Girl on the Verge,” he’s become an international action movie star. Liv’s been out of touch with Ransom for years, but it only takes minutes in his company for all the old feelings to come back twice as strong. And after all this time, it seems like her feelings might be reciprocated . . . but falling in love is hard enough when the whole world isn’t watching. 

There’s plenty of Hollywood glitz in The Reunion (with luxe descriptions of houses and events), but underneath all the glamour is the poignant aura of a high school reunion. There’s nothing like being surrounded by people who knew you as a kid to help you realize how much you’ve grown up and which opportunities you’ve let pass you by. Olson’s characters are easy to root for all the way through, to the point that I found myself caring deeply about the reboot of a show that never existed. In fact, “Girl on the Verge” sounds so great that I’m sad I can’t watch it myself. And when love finally happens for Ransom and Liv, I felt all the thrill of a dedicated fan, finally seeing my OTP come to life.

If The Reunion has a weakness, it’s how perfect Ransom and Liv are for each other. They seem so mutually smitten right from the start that I half expected this to be one of those romances in which the heroine finally gets a chance with the man of her dreams but then discovers that it’s someone else she’s meant to be with after all. But on the other hand, it’s nice to think that love can be that simple, that clean. Maybe that’s what we like about all these reboots: the idea that we can go back to what we loved before and find it right there waiting for us—just as sweet as we remember, with a payoff that’s just as satisfying as we always hoped it would be.

Kayla Olson’s sweet, satisfying romance follows two actors who uncover long-buried feelings when they reunite for the 20th anniversary of the show they starred in as teens.
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Anita Kelly’s Something Wild & Wonderful accomplishes an interesting feat: Its rich, lyrical writing manages to make hiking the 2,500-mile Pacific Crest Trail sound positively stunning but also like the last thing anyone but the most outdoorsy of us would want to do. But oh, these characters—I’d go on a journey with them anywhere.

Alexei Lebedev is hoping that hiking the trail will help him transition from Alexei 1.0 to Alexei 2.0: a version of himself who is more open, more adventurous, braver and happier. Someone who will be able to move past the emotional blow of his parents disowning him six months ago, after he came out as gay. Alexei 1.0’s life revolved around family and church, and now he has neither. He needs to figure out what comes next, but he never expected something as amazing as Ben Caravalho.

Where Alexei is a meticulous planner, Ben is spontaneous. Where Alexei is shy and socially awkward, Ben is outgoing, making friends around every corner. Alexei is dazzled by Ben right from the start, and some of the early speed bumps in their relationship come from the fact that Alexei struggles to believe that Ben could want not only him but also something long term with him. But that same openheartedness that so appeals to Alexei causes problems for Ben, who always falls too fast and gives too much of himself.

Something Wild & Wonderful is a journey of self-discovery, as Alexei comes to terms with who he is and learns to let go of who he was. It’s a journey of self-actualization, as Ben learns to stop blaming himself for past mistakes and accept a future built on the things that make him happy. It’s an actual, physical journey through a wide range of landscapes and climates, all of which Kelly depicts in gorgeous, moving prose. But most of all, it’s a journey to true love, made all the more believable thanks to the firm foundation Alexei and Ben start from. This isn’t a romance in which the main couple tease and taunt and drive each other up the wall before they finally hook up. This is a romance in which affection, desire, admiration, appreciation and respect radiate from every page. It’s crystal clear from the start that Alexei and Ben don’t just enjoy each other—they are actively good for each other. Something Wild & Wonderful is so sweet and satisfying that you’ll want to read it again and again, just to experience the various journeys within its pages.

Anita Kelly’s Something Wild & Wonderful follows two men who fall in love as they hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and it’s so sweet and satisfying that you’ll never want it to end.
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“Never meet your heroes” is a sentiment that’s probably been around as long as celebrities have existed, and Lex Croucher’s Infamous is a perfect illustration of why.

Edith “Eddie” Miller is a Jo March-esque heroine, a young woman with literary aspirations in Regency England. She’s awed to the point of speechlessness when she meets gifted, charming, roguishly gorgeous poet Nash Nicholson and he invites her to become part of his inner circle of artists, writers and revolutionaries. It’s everything Eddie’s always wanted, and it’s a splendid distraction from how her deep, devoted friendship with Rose Li seems to be crumbling. They’ve been inseparable since they were little, but now they’re expected to grow up, participate in social events, accept suitors . . . get married. Rose, in fact, seems on the verge of an engagement to a man who’s perfectly nice, perfectly dull and (in Eddie’s opinion) perfectly dreadful. Eddie doesn’t know why something in her rebels at the thought of Rose building a life with someone else. She also doesn’t know why their “practice” kisses with each other seem to affect her so powerfully. All she knows is that life is pulling her in two different directions, and she’ll have to decide what matters more: patching up her increasingly strained relationship with Rose, or focusing on the glittering world that Nash offers.

As in their debut novel, Reputation, Croucher’s sharp, vivid and enchanting writing bursts off the page. But their most magnetic, intoxicating characters are always the ones you’re not sure you should trust. As things start to fall apart in the story, a sense of dread weighs down the more enjoyable aspects of the novel. Eddie’s a charming protagonist, but her single-minded determination can be frustrating. It’s a credit to Croucher that they made me care enough to yell at the pages, trying to get Eddie to see what was, inevitably, coming—but the fact that I did care made the story hard to read in parts. Nineteenth-century Eddie may have never heard of #MeToo, but 21st-century me certainly has.

Nevertheless, Infamous is a very engaging read and an empowering one, as well. Eddie’s hero may let her down, but in the end, the only way to move forward is simply to become her own hero.

Lex Croucher’s sharp, vivid and enchanting writing bursts off the page in Infamous, their second Regency romance after Reputation.
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The trick to a great love story is having a really good reason why the characters can’t fall in love. Maybe it’s feuding families, maybe it’s scheming stepmothers, maybe it’s pride and/or prejudice. In Sophie Jordan’s The Scandalous Ladies of London: The Countess, it’s that the man of Lady Gertrude’s dreams is courting her daughter.

Gertrude, the Countess of Chatham (Tru to her friends), gave up on any notions of contentment or satisfaction in her married life within weeks of her wedding. Tru’s never going to have a happy ending—and she’s made her peace with that. But now that it’s her daughter’s first season, Tru will do whatever it takes to make sure Delia has a chance at something better. She wants her daughter to have a love match, a husband who will cherish and respect her. But Tru’s callous wastrel of a husband decides that Delia’s debut is his chance to select a suitor with deep pockets to fund his debauched lifestyle. Things get even worse when he reveals that his hand-picked selection for their new son-in-law is Jasper Thorne, a man Tru has met just once before—during a brief encounter that was more sensual, more intense than anything she has experienced in the entirety of her marriage.

A self-made man with no reverence for class or station, Jasper has no respect for a disgusting cad like Tru’s husband. He wants an aristocratic wife purely to ensure that his daughter has every possible privilege and advantage. But what he wants most is Tru, rather desperately, and has from the moment he laid eyes on her. If pretending to court Delia gives him an excuse to be around Tru, he’ll take it. It’s a match that can’t possibly happen—but their attraction can’t be denied.

Jordan knows how to deliver the heat, and the chemistry between Jasper and Tru is scorching. At the same time, The Countess doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of their situation, or the difficulties of other women within Tru’s circle. This book is an intriguing introduction to a series that will explore the love lives of these strong, fierce and compelling women, all of whom resigned themselves to unsatisfying marriages because that’s what the strictures of high society demanded. Jasper and Tru have to fight against those strictures to get their happily ever after, and that makes The Countess a compelling read. If love came easily, watching a couple fight to win it wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

A noblewoman falls for her daughter’s suitor in The Scandalous Ladies of London: The Countess, Sophie Jordan’s scorching start to a new series.
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Before I picked up Sarah Adler’s debut novel, I had no idea that what I needed in life was a love story about grounded flights, olive oil spills, broccoli trivia, precisely three tablespoons of cremated remains and that weird thing where you always run into people you know at the airport. If you’re in the mood to giggle helplessly while falling in love with absurdly endearing characters, then Mrs. Nash’s Ashes will be just what you need, too.

Former child star Millicent Watts-Cohen left acting behind years ago, but she is still famous enough to get asked, “Hey, don’t I know you?” by an endless string of people—some sweet, some obnoxious and some just plain gross. One might expect Millie to be cynical or jaded, but she stubbornly insists on being pure sunshine, open and optimistic. Her wholehearted romanticism leads her to transport the titular bag of ashes to Florida. Mrs. Nash was Millie’s roommate and, despite their decadeswide age gap, her best friend. The love of Mrs. Nash’s life was Elsie, a nurse she met during World War II. Because a future together seemed impossible, they went their separate ways, and Elsie reportedly died 10 years later. But after Mrs. Nash dies herself, Millie discovers that Elsie is still alive, in hospice at a retirement center in Florida. As a last gift to Mrs. Nash, Millie decides to bring her ashes to Elsie, reuniting the two women at last. 

Unfortunately, that mission hits a snag when a technical snafu grounds swarms of airplanes. But luckily, the world’s grumpiest white knight rides to Millie’s rescue. Hollis Hollenbeck, a friend of Millie’s ex, might grouse and grumble, but he saves Millie starting with the very first scene of the book, in which he fends off a particularly icky fan. After the rental cars are snapped up, he offers her a lift with him to Florida. Hollis insists that he’s only helping her for his own peace of mind (he’s convinced Millie would cheerfully assist some creep in kidnapping her if left to her own devices), but she has him pegged right from the start. He’s not nice—not at all. But he’s kind. And also really hot, of course.

Opposites attract plus a road trip isn’t a new combination. In the reader’s guide, Adler references the O.G.: It Happened One Night, Frank Capra’s classic 1934 rom-com. Many have followed in Capra’s footsteps, but the familiarity of the plot doesn’t take one iota of pleasure away from watching Hollis and Millie come together. Millie’s a delight, quirky and sweet without ever seeming saccharine or insincere. And Hollis is almost more endearing for how hard he tries not to be sweet. He’s doing everything he can to keep from being charmed, but all his defenses fall by the wayside whenever Millie needs him. Romance readers will know that Millie and Hollis’ story has a happy ending, but it’s not the destination that matters. It’s the journey—and this journey is an absolute treat.

This grumpy-sunshine romance is an absolute treat, and a superb debut from Sarah Adler.

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