Sarah Thomas

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Two new small-town romances prove there’s life yet in a subgenre that’s often seen as old-fashioned at best, retrograde at worst. With deep emotion, excellent characterization and a sly subversion of tropes, Liza Kendall and Tracey Livesay have created towns we can’t wait to go back to.

Walk Me Home

Small-town romances don’t always have to be all sunshine, and Liza Kendall tugs at your heartstrings right away in Walk Me Home, a story full of characters with depth.

The first in the Silverlake Ranch series by Kendall, a pen name for the combined forces of two award-winning authors, Walk Me Home introduces the readers to the Braddock and Nash families. Willing a family tragedy to stay in the past, Charlie Nash is reluctant to go back to her hometown of Silverlake. Charlie hasn’t seen her ex-boyfriend, Jake Braddock, since they were teenagers, and when they reunite to help out with a circus of a wedding, sparks begin to reignite.

Filled with a cast of supporting characters who range from Jake’s fellow firefighters or Charlie’s ornery grandfather, it’s easy to get lost in the town of Silverlake, Texas. And under it all, Kendall creates a story of redemption and second chances with grace. One of the best things about this book is that it allows the characters to grieve fully and in different ways. Each member of the Braddock and Nash family navigate their grief in ways that help the reader to understand their personalities on a deeper level. Whether it’s Lila Braddock’s boisterous embrace of life or Kingston Nash’s anger, this lends the characters a distinct humanity.

Walk Me Home envelops the reader in Jake and Charlie’s long-buried feelings. Kendall smartly deploys characters’ backstories and uses them to fully flesh out their unique characteristics. The effect is endearing and will have you rooting for Jake and Charlie to figure out if their relationship is worth another shot. As past feelings, both good and bad, bubble to the surface, Charlie and Jake’s moments with each other are a treat to read. With lust that quickly turns into longing, and enough emotions to keep your nose buried deep in its pages, Walk Me Home is an excellent read.

 Sweet Talkin’ Lover

Tracey Livesay brings the charm with Sweet Talkin’ Lover, the first in a new series that puts a modern spin on the popular small-town genre.

We’re first introduced to Caila Harris, whose yearly girls trip has become a cornerstone of her group of friends. A no-nonsense professional working in the beauty industry, Caila’s life gets turned upside down when she finds herself on assignment to shut down an unprofitable factory in Bradleton, a small town whose charm is only outmatched by that of the rightfully dubbed “Mayor McHottie,” Wyatt Bradley.

Her grandfather’s death has knocked Caila off her game in the workplace, even with a promotion on the horizon. Caila’s plans go further awry when Wyatt and the people of Bradleton set out to show her the magic of their small town. Soon, Caila finds herself for falling for more than Bradleton's quaint shops and fall festival.

Livesay crafts a grand adventure in a small package. Unlike many small-town romances, Livesay drops a believable, modern day heroine into reader’s laps. Reading about the adventures of a black woman in small-town Bradleton as she navigates between her head and her heart is wondrous. Livesay delivers excellent descriptions of Caila’s and Wyatt’s surroundings that will make even the most die-hard city slicker yearn for the simple life.

As sweet as small-town life can be, Livesay also knows when to turn up the heat. Wyatt and Caila’s attraction to one another simmers and boils over as they grow closer to each other. Readers will feel the intensity of their mutual attraction build through Livesay’s skillful, playful banter and evocatively written longing between the two. With a diverse cast of characters who propel the story forward and an enchanting look at a modern small town, Sweet Talkin’ Lover is a triumph.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Go Behind the Book with Liza Kendall.

Two new small-town romances prove there’s life yet in a subgenre that’s often seen as old-fashioned at best, retrograde at worst.

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Lyssa Kay Adams provides laughs and steamy romance in her second Bromance Book Club romance. In Undercover Bromance, the reader is welcomed back to a romance book club full of lovable male characters navigating an unfamiliar world of feelings and flowery language. The group is led by Braden Mack, a well-to-do nightclub entrepreneur who’s an expert in matters of the heart. In the previous book, Braden met the one woman resistant to his charms: Liv Papandreas. But Braden is up for the challenge in this amazing romance.

Liv is brash and at times rude, but she’s really just a big ol’ softy on the inside. The head patisserie at a high-end restaurant, Liv instantly disliked Braden. (He ate her Chinese leftovers without asking.) When they cross paths yet again in a hilarious and unfortunate misunderstanding involving a very expensive cupcake, any hope of love between the pair seems to be doomed. But in Adams’ sweet, effortlessly funny take on the enemies-to-lovers trope, Braden and Liv slowly find their way toward one another while working to take down Liv’s old boss, a sexual predator who’s bought the silence of his victims and blacklisted Liv in the culinary world. As the two begin to see through the walls they’ve both put up, they eventually realize they suit each other in more ways than one. Braden is particularly endearing—soft and emotionally guarded under his playboy demeanor.

Even given its serious subject matter, Undercover Bromance is irrepressibly funny, in particular when Adams cheekily breaks the fourth wall. Each character in this large cast—from Liv’s responsible older sister, Thea, to a mysterious hacker and a man almost exclusively referred to as “The Russian”—is crafted with loving care and given time to shine.

Blending comedy, romance and social commentary, Undercover Bromance is an adorable, ambitious success for a rising star in the genre.

Lyssa Kay Adams ably provides laughs and steamy romance in her second Bromance Book Club romance.

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Eva Leigh puts inspiring, forthright female characters at the forefront of her delectable romances, and Lady Grace Wyatt is no exception in My Fake Rake, the first of a new series.

But first, Leigh introduces us to a disparate group of boys who, while in a Regency version of detention, form a lifelong bond and will eventually call themselves the Union of the Rakes. One of their number is Sebastian Holloway, a bookish and handsome anthropologist who becomes a close friend of Lady Grace.

Grace could care less what others think of her fascination with amphibians. With scholarly friends like Sebastian by her side, she doesn’t need the approval of the ton. However, things change when she’s suddenly faced with the task of finding a husband. Enlisting Sebastian to play the part of her suitor, she hopes to catch the attention of Mason Fredericks, a dreamboat fellow scholar.

Like many stories with this plotline, you’re left on the edge of your seat as you wait for Sebastian and Grace to discover their feelings for one another. With a keen eye for pacing, Leigh takes the reader along for the sensual ride, immersing them into Grace and Sebastian’s intimate friendship as they discover feelings that simmer just below the surface.

Leigh excels at giving appropriate modern and relatable touches in a historical romance. Grace’s deep intelligence and Sebastian’s social anxiety hook you in and transport you to their time with ease. And the other rakes, such as the scene-stealing Duke of Rotherby, possess sensitive qualities that humanize each man and complement the passionate and engaging female characters. Another benefit of Leigh’s subtle modernity? The sensual scenes are all the steamier.

With down-to-earth characters and an enthralling friends-to-lovers storyline, My Fake Rake is a hard one to put down.

Eva Leigh puts inspiring, forthright female characters at the forefront of her delectable romances, and Lady Grace Wyatt is no exception in My Fake Rake, the first of a new series.

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Talia Hibbert knows how to pack a book full of fun, sexy and whip-smart characters, and Get a Life, Chloe Brown is a pitch-perfect example of her talents. The first in the Brown Sisters series, this book introduces us to Chloe Brown, a well-to-do black woman with fibromyalgia. After a close call with death, Chloe decides it’s time to get her life together and makes a list that she hopes will bring some excitement to her life. Enlisting the help of her dreamy, tattooed landlord, Redford Morgan, Chloe sets out to check all of her boxes on her list.

Hibbert’s books are a master class in inclusivity. Not only does she often include black women as the romantic lead, she also portrays mental illness with the utmost care. Her characters’ experiences with depression or bipolar disorder are believably and respectfully depicted. She works to make sure that the characters have more than a story that solely focuses on their illnesses, showing that romance and passion are for everyone.

Hibbert peppers in witty and incredibly sultry banter between her characters. Chloe and Red’s interactions are delectably sweet and will leave you smiling to yourself as they verbally spar with each other. Their conversations are effortless and believable, and flow with increasing ease as they get to know each other.

The natural development of Chloe and Red’s relationship is a testament to Hibbert’s character work and excellent plotting. She excels in the slow build of intimacy between the two as they discover that despite their differences, like Red’s tattoos and Chloe’s fondness for prim cardigans, they can’t get enough of each other. When sparks fly, readers will want to cheer out loud. Hibbert’s stunning dialogue and stupendous prose are on full display in this powerhouse of a romance.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Talia Hibbert.

Talia Hibbert knows how to pack a book full of fun, sexy and whip-smart characters, and Get a Life, Chloe Brown is a pitch-perfect example of her talents.

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Lynsay Sands immerses readers in the complex and exciting world of bloodsucking vampires in Immortal Born and leaves them breathless for more.

The 30th book in the Argeneau series, Immortal Born introduces us to Allie Chambers, who is in a predicament. Allie has promised to raise and protect her friend’s son who has an insatiable appetite for blood. As Liam grows, so does his hunger, and Allie decides to take a desperate chance to give him what he needs. When her plan to rob a blood bank to feed her growing son goes awry, Allie is suddenly introduced to one of the most handsome men she has ever met: Magnus Bjarnesen. As Allie may be Magnus’ potential lifemate, he’s not sure what surprises him more—the amount of danger Allie and Liam are in, or how badly he wants her.

Sands’ effortless character creation leaves no stone unturned as she spells out the sprawling world of the immortals and their history. With this modern take on vampire lore, Allie and Magnus become as believable and relatable as any other romantic leads. Allie is a modern-day heroine thrown into the confusing world of immortals. Readers will have no trouble identifying with Allie as she faces difficult choices and displays a refreshing, no-nonsense attitude toward survival. When faced with the ultimate choice to protect Liam, and put her heart on the line in more ways than one, Allie weighs the options with a clarity and relatability that comes from thorough character building.

Magnus and his family of vampires, who prefer to be called immortals, are warm and inviting when his and Allie’s worlds are thrown together. Readers will revel in Sands’ expert, slow build of the couple’s chemistry as Allie finds herself more curious about Magnus with each passing day, and as Magnus struggles with his own desire.

The intimate moments between these two characters make this book shine and romantic sparks fly. Immortal Born is a take on the vampire genre grounded in emotional realism that allows readers to imagine themselves in the characters’ shoes with ease.

Lynsay Sands immerses readers in the complex and exciting world of blood-sucking vampires in Immortal Born, leaving them breathless for more.

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Ilona Andrews draws the reader seamlessly into the depths of a highly detailed, endlessly fascinating world in Sapphire Flames.

The first in a new trilogy in Andrews' Hidden Legacy series begins with Catalina Baylor as the newly minted Head of her House. Even though she’s a Prime mage with intense, unique abilities, she and her family work small investigation jobs. As a Siren, Catalina can persuade someone to do just about anything. But the longer she uses her magic on them, the more extreme their love for her will become—to the point that they will try to rip her apart to have pieces of her for their very own.

When Catalina’s friend asks her for help discovering who killed her mother and sister, Catalina is faced with one of her most difficult challenges yet. To make matters worse, her teenage crush, the mysterious Italian Prime Alessandro Sagredo, is somehow involved. Readers will enjoy the lively banter and simmering attraction that Andrews adds to each of their scenes.

Husband-and-wife team Andrews are known for their bold world building, and their originality shines as mages, magical creatures and assassins come alive in modern-day Houston. Andrews paints a clear path for the reader’s imagination to follow, describing the details of everything from government structures to the choreography of a fight scene.

Alessandro and Catalina's interactions, both steamy and confrontational, are full of witty dialogue and relatable inner musings. Catalina navigates the obstacles of her role and the dangers of her magic with a frankness that allows the reader to imagine themselves in her very shoes, magic aside. And her reactions to Alessandro’s cheeky commentary showcase the potential couple’s snappy chemistry.

Andrews makes space for new readers, ensuring they don’t lose their way as they follow the mystery and romance that dazzles on every page, all the way to Sapphire Flames’ gripping conclusion.

Ilona Andrews seamlessly draws the reader into the depths of a highly detailed, endlessly fascinating world in Sapphire Flames.

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If you follow romance authors and reviewers on Twitter, you probably already know who Talia Hibbert is. The self-published British writer’s books frequently receive glowing, heart-eyes reviews and entire threads of rapturous praise. But with Get a Life, Chloe Brown, her first traditionally published title, Hibbert is about to ascend to a whole new level of literary stardom. We talked to Hibbert about her favorite tropes, the importance of empathy and why her latest bad boy hero was inspired by the coziest of seasons.

In Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Chloe and Redford are attracted to each other off the bat, despite all the ways in which they annoy each other. Is this one of your favorite tropes? And are there any other tropes you love but haven’t explored yet in your own writing?
An initial flare of chemistry accompanied by a personality clash is definitely one of my favorite tropes. I love the idea of an attraction so powerful it exists in spite of common sense. Plus, I find it funny when characters are frustrated with themselves—you know, like, “Why the hell are you attracted to this waste of oxygen? What is wrong with you?!”

I adore tropes in general, so I could happily spend the rest of my life exploring them all. In particular, marriage of convenience has been on my mind a lot. It’s more common in historical romance, but I recently read Jodie Slaughter’s White Whiskey Bargain, which does an amazing job of handling the trope in a contemporary setting. That gave me all kinds of thoughts!

"I love the idea of an attraction so powerful it exists in spite of common sense."

Out of all of your characters, whom do you identify with the most?
This is a tricky question because a sprinkle of myself goes into everything I write. At the minute, I identify very strongly with Chloe because we have similar experiences and lifestyles. She’s a computer nerd, I’m a book nerd, we’re both socially awkward and we both deal with chronic pain. But I also identify with Ruth from my book A Girl Like Her. Ruth is autistic, like me, and writing her perspective felt so familiar and comfortable. She’s also an antisocial comic book nerd, so I guess the real answer here is: I identify with any character who doesn’t leave the house. LOL.

Where did you draw from to create both Chloe and Red? Was there a specific moment or source of inspiration for either of them?
Chloe popped into my mind fully formed, probably as a result of my own experiences. I have fibromyalgia, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and some other annoying stuff. I had these aspects of chronic illness and chronic pain that I wanted to share with the world, and she appeared as the perfect star for that story.

Then I worked on creating Red. At first, I was trying to build Chloe an ideal hero, but he never turned out right. I didn’t get anywhere with him until I realized—I have to stop creating him for Chloe and simply create him for himself. That’s when his character really started to work. I wrote Redford in autumn, and I think the rich colors, harsh weather and cozy comforts of the season inspired his personality and backstory.

How much from your own life, if any, did you draw experiences from for Chloe?
I drew from my physical experiences when it came to crafting Chloe. Knowing firsthand the kind of pain she might face and the things she might not be able to do—that took out the guesswork. I just had to think “Okay, if Chloe’s pain is at an eight right now, how is she going to interact with Red?” (Spoiler alert, the answer is: she’s going to give him a withering glare and hurry away.)

I also drew from my own life to create her family background. (Not the millionaire part, sadly, but the other stuff.) Chloe is from a Jamaican family, like my father. At the start of the book, she lives with her parents and grandparents, which is how we do things in my mother’s culture. It’s always fun, getting that on paper, because we can never have too much representation, right?

"I drew from my physical experiences when it came to crafting Chloe. Knowing firsthand the kind of pain she might face and the things she might not be able to do—that took out the guesswork."

Many of your books feature interracial couples. Can you talk a bit about the reception of that?
I started writing interracial romance because my partner is white, so I already had some idea how these stories might be received. I’ve had negative responses from neo-Nazis and eugenicists, but since they’re neo-Nazis and eugenicists, I can’t say I cared. On the other hand, I get positive responses for the wrong reasons—especially when I write black heroines with white heroes. People send me glowing emails about how the white hero allowed them to open their mind and appreciate the black heroine’s beauty. It’s like . . . thanks for letting me know you thought we were ugly last week, hope you’re proud of your superficial growth! LOL.

But on the whole, the reception is overwhelmingly positive—in a good way. At the end of the day, my readers are wonderful people who value diverse representation. I know they’ll be just as supportive when I publish more black romances, too, which is nice.

What are the differences, if any, in the reception of your work in the U.S. and in the U.K.?
My U.K. readers are just as supportive as my U.S. ones—but I have way more U.S. readers. Way more. I’m in more libraries and bookshops over there, too. Of course, that might be because most British bookshops are allergic to romance novels.

There are definite stylistic differences between U.S. and U.K. romance. Like May Sage and Charlotte Stein, I’m a British author who writes U.S.-influenced genre romance, and that could be why my books get more attention in the U.S. than they do at home. It might also have something to do with my backlist being self-published. I think U.S. readers and booksellers are more open to that than U.K. ones are. So we’ll have to see what happens with Get a Life, Chloe Brown, which is my first traditionally published book.

Either way, I’m eternally grateful that North American readers offer me so much support, because without them I might not have a job. So, thanks guys. Please keep that up. No pressure.

Do you have a particularly favorite scene in any of your books?
There’s a scene in Get a Life, Chloe Brown that might be my favorite of all time. I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll just say that it’s the first cat scene, and I absolutely love it. Aside from that, I always think back to a scene in my book The Princess Trap where the hero is explaining something to the heroine, while the heroine calmly considers the logistics of throwing an ornament at his head.

Chloe’s grandmother, Gigi, is such a fun character. What inspired her character and what was your favorite thing about writing her?
When I was growing up, my paternal grandmother and maternal great-grandmother were close friends. They were both super glamorous, both had backgrounds in fashion design, both experienced being working single mothers—and they loved to party. Gigi is a combination of them, from her style and shameless attitude, to her constant support and creative endearments. I love that she’s a wildcard who doesn’t fit ageist, sexist ideas of how a grandmother should behave. I also love her subtle, stealthy manner of caring for her granddaughters. She’s secretly a ferocious mama bear, but she hides it so cleverly, no one really notices.

What does a normal day of writing look like for you?
When I’m in the process of writing a book, the characters completely hijack my brain. I can’t do anything without them offering helpful story suggestions, which I then have to write down on whatever’s closest. So as soon as I wake up, ideas start flowing. I usually stay in bed for a while and make notes on my phone. Actually, I’ve written whole scenes on my phone before even getting up to brush my teeth, which is always nice.

Once I’m done, I’ll get up, get dressed, get some breakfast, maybe do some physical therapy. I used to skip all that and get straight to working, but now I’m practicing this whole “self-care” thing, so . . . appropriate nutrition it is!

I get to my desk around nine, and then I write, write, write. I don’t stop until lunch, which is usually one o’clock. I take an hour to cook and watch TV or do some reading. Then I go back to my desk. If I’ve already hit my word count for the day, I’ll do some admin stuff, then finish early. But if I’ve had a slow morning or there’s a scene I’m struggling with, I’ll write some more.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes! It’s literally my lifelong dream.

What part of this book was the hardest to write?
Red and Chloe have a major argument toward the end of the book, and my editor and I had to fiddle with it so much. I wanted both characters to be justifiably hurt, and to pull away from each other, but I didn’t want either of them to say or do anything too terrible. They’re soft! They’re sweet! They love each other! In the end, it was about digging deep into painful aspects of their past—which I hated, because I prefer everything to be all hearts and rainbows. But it had to be done.

What is the easiest thing about writing?
For me, it changes with every book. Sometimes the characters appear fully formed, sometimes plot points present themselves in an orderly fashion, sometimes the dialogue and description really flow. But only one thing can go well at a time. That’s the rule.

Can you define romance in your own words?
The romance genre is about respecting the power of emotion. Society brands emotion as inefficient or “feminine” (God forbid anything be feminine), but really, feelings are like water: They can heal, they can destroy, they can change the face of the earth. And they often do. Romance harnesses the power of emotion without shame, using it to transform characters and wrench visceral reactions from readers.

"Romance harnesses the power of emotion without shame, using it to transform characters and wrench visceral reactions from readers."

You portray mental health struggles in such a realistic way. How do you go about translating something like anxiety or lingering trauma to the page?
When I’m putting mental health on the page, I always come from a place of personal experience. But I haven’t experienced everything ever (obviously!) so if it’s a struggle that’s not my own, I start with research. Then, armed with understanding, I look for similar threads of experience in my life, and try to weave them together. Combining someone else’s truth with a ribbon of my own emotions helps me get it on paper.

I guess that’s a fancy, long-winded way of saying empathy. I just try to focus on empathy.

What does representation mean to you, especially in the romance genre?
Representation in romance means accepting, then celebrating, the fact that difference is normal. To do that, we have to carve out space for the voices of marginalized people, because underrepresentation can’t be fixed unless you actively do the work.

For example, publishing a few chronically ill heroines isn’t enough: We need countless books about chronically ill people, all from different authors, all with different conditions and backgrounds and tropes and heat levels, until they become as run-of-the-mill as books about healthy people. That’s representation.

What are ways that people can support more diverse romances?
Read them! Research like The Ripped Bodice’s annual diversity report shows that traditional publishers are not giving authors of color, for example, as much space to succeed as they give white authors. If we self-publish, we face higher production costs for things like cover images and promotional images that represent our characters. So if we’re given an opportunity, or we take a chance, and no one buys our books . . . we stop writing, because we’re busy working elsewhere to pay the bills.

Of course, it’s not readers’ responsibility to keep anyone in a job, and it’s also not as easy as saying, “Buy more of these books.” The real trouble is that diverse romance gets less support (from mainstream influencers, from publishers, from everyone!), and therefore fewer readers. You can change that by fighting their bias. If you follow websites like, podcasts like The Turn On, blogs like Love in Panels—all resources with a commitment to inclusion—you’ll be exposed to more diverse content. And, once you’re aware of all these books that weren’t on your radar before, you’ll naturally read more of them. Because they’re amazing.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
I follow a lot of authors online, and the most common advice I see is to ignore writing advice that doesn’t resonate with you. I really love that, because it’s so easy to feel shamed or impostery if you don’t follow the same method as someone else. So I suppose this is communal advice: Do what works for you.

Consent is, of course, a requirement for sex and physical touch. Your characters show a deep understanding of this. Can you talk a bit about this?
When it comes to consent, society gaslights us all. From the media, to cultural perceptions, to the actual law, it’s always about dismissing the importance of consent. So, with my books, I like to do the opposite. My main characters treat consent as the bare minimum because that’s what good people should do. I suppose I’m adding my voice to a chorus that’s been shouting for a while: This is how things should be. Don’t listen to anyone else, don’t let them bullshit you. Anything less than this is wrong.

Is there anything you haven’t written about yet that you’d like to explore in future books?
So much! I love everything about romance with a burning, ’80s-clinch-cover passion. Every time I read something brilliant it’s like, “Oh my God, I need to write this. I need to play in this sandbox.” One thing that’s been on my mind recently is half-siblings. I have a lot of half-siblings and I think it’s a powerful and interesting relationship, something that would make a great theme or basis for a series. I’ve also been thinking about tropes around survival—like, love interests who go through something together, then have to deal with that survival bond and a romantic bond. Finally, I would love to write more paranormal romance. Everything, basically!


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Get a Life, Chloe Brown.

Author photo by Ed Chappell.

With Get a Life, Chloe Brown, her first traditionally published title, Talia Hibbert is about to ascend to a whole new level of literary stardom.

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