★ Bringing Down the Duke
Evie Dunmore’s Victorian romance Bringing Down the Duke is a superior debut in every way. Annabelle Archer is smart, poor and desperate. Admitted to Oxford University through a benefactress committed to the women’s suffrage movement, Annabelle meets Sebastian Devereux, Duke of Montgomery, and tries to recruit him to their cause. The sexual tension shimmers on the page, and the pair’s sensual longing and cerebral connection make this romance seem unstoppable—although the conflict between duty and desire may prove to be insurmountable. The historical backdrop is not only well done but also integral to the plot, and the characters feel true to their time and societal expectations. Readers will identify with Annabelle and root for her to achieve all her heart’s desires.
The Blacksmith Queen
G.A. Aiken writes fantasy romance with a grin and a wink in The Blacksmith Queen, the first in a new series. When the Old King dies, a prophecy predicts a new queen, who turns out to be the sister of talented blacksmith Keeley Smythe. To claim the title, there are battles to be fought and allies to win over, forcing Keeley to make new friends (one of them a very attractive warrior). The Smythe clan will steal readers’ hearts and have them cheering for their triumph over evil. Aiken builds a world and characters that feel real despite the sexy centaurs, demon wolves and two suns in the sky. It may be laugh-out-loud funny, but at its heart this is a story of a woman who cares deeply for both the family she has and the one she creates.
Nothing to Fear
Juno Rushdan provides nonstop action and pulse-pounding suspense in her second novel, Nothing to Fear. Operative Gideon Stone of the super-secretive Gray Box organization knows there’s a mole on the team but also knows it can’t be their cryptologist/hacker, Willow Harper. To prove she’s been set up and to save her life, Gideon and Harper go on the run. Gideon is as stony as his name, but he’s falling for the brilliant and beautiful Willow, who has an autism spectrum disorder. Her vulnerabilities and strengths make her a fascinating character and a good foil for her partner, who manages, in her arms, to find his softer side. Detailed descriptions of tactics and firefights add to the authenticity and excitement of this stellar read.