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Cat Sebastian’s latest queer historical romance is a love letter to resilience and the power of bravery. Set in 1960 New York City, the same midcentury journalism milieu of Sebastian’s 2023 novel, We Could Be So Good, You Should Be So Lucky tells the story of shortstop Eddie O’Leary and journalist Mark Bailey, both of whom are in a slump.

For the last year, following the death of his longtime partner, Mark has been on sabbatical from his role as an arts and culture journalist at the Chronicle. But his break is up and his first assignment is writing a highbrow sports feature about Eddie, a struggling player on the new baseball team in town, the New York Robins.

Eddie’s dealing with the worst slump of his career and desperately misses his old team in Kansas City, Missouri, both for the friends he made and the privacy a smaller stage afforded. No professional athlete or public figure really ever has privacy, but a gay baseball player in 1960 has a reason to keep secrets. That being said, Eddie is still surprisingly open and upbeat, the sunshine to Mark’s grumpiness.

One of Sebastian’s hallmarks is excellent character development, and how she uses her characters as a window into a book’s setting. We learn about the New York Robins and the Chronicle through the actions of Mark and Eddie. It’s very enjoyable to spend time in the presence of these likable, relatable characters, but their emotions and experiences will also grab readers by the heartstrings.

Eddie needs to stay at least somewhat closeted to continue playing baseball, and Sebastian does an exceptional job of outlining the difficulties of living and loving as a gay public figure. Mark’s late partner had political aspirations that required the two of them to pretend to be platonic roommates. Mark knows how to keep the personal parts of his life private, even when the pressure of maintaining that discretion is overwhelming. As their relationship evolves, one of the central conflicts is how Mark can balance his feelings for Eddie with his desire to avoid having to hide them.

Like baseball fans throughout history, You Should Be So Lucky roots for victory—even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

A romance between a baseball player and a journalist in 1960 New York City, Cat Sebastian’s latest is as enjoyable as it is emotional.
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My Season of Scandal

Julie Anne Long exquisitely captures sensuous, romantic longing in My Season of Scandal. Country miss and physician’s daughter Catherine Keating is embarking on a London society husband hunt from the charming Grand Palace on the Thames boardinghouse. Living one floor above her is Lord Dominic Kirke, a fiery, justice-seeking politician with a notorious reputation. They should have nothing in common, and yet they find in each other like minds and hearts. Dominic tries to keep clear of Catherine, believing his worldliness and tarnished past will hurt her prospects, but they are drawn together at every ball. The resolution will induce sighs and perhaps a few happy tears, as what romance reader can resist a tale starring a jaded hero and an innocent but plucky heroine?

The Good Ones Are Taken

The ever-popular friends-to-lovers trope is front and center in Taj McCoy’s The Good Ones Are Taken. Maggie’s full life is only lacking one thing: a man to love. Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s Garrett, her best friend, but back when they were teenagers, they decided not to cross the line into romance. But with Maggie’s duties as maid of honor for her two besties coming up, she feels pressured to find a Prince Charming and determinedly puts herself out there. She doesn’t quite fit with anyone until she takes a closer look at Garrett—yet can she risk ruining what they have? Set in Los Angeles, The Good Ones Are Taken is fun, fresh and filled with good food, great clothes and scorching love scenes. Readers will want to hang out with Maggie and company while rooting for her happy ending.

Earls Trip

Jenny Holiday’s tongue-in-cheek Regency romance Earls Trip showcases her trademark charm, humor and well-developed characters. Three aristocratic friends (two earls and a viscount) depart London for their annual sabbatical. But after a last-minute request from an old family friend, Archibald Fielding-Burton, the Earl of Harcourt, rescues sisters Clementine and Olive Morgan from a conniving blackguard—and then brings the two women along on his getaway with the guys. Archie and Clementine, once childhood friends, soon discover a passion they didn’t expect and don’t particularly welcome, at least at first. While Holiday peppers the story with amusing set pieces and cute, anachronistic chapter titles, there is true heart to this tale of a man and woman coming to understand, appreciate and admire each other as much as they love each other.

Plus, two friends-to-lovers romances charm our columnist.

When a Scot Ties the Knot

There’s unlucky, and then there’s “Surprise! Your fake pen pal is actually a real person!” Madeline Gracechurch dreamed up Captain Logan MacKenzie, an honorable Scottish soldier conveniently stationed elsewhere, to get out of making her debut and continue her work as an illustrator of naturalist texts. Maddie writes letters to Logan for years before she finally decides to kill him off, thinking herself safe from matrimony forever. And then, of course, Logan shows up on her doorstep, letters in hand, intent on getting married for real so that his battle-weary men can settle down on Maddie’s extensive property. When a Scot Ties the Knot is an absolute sugar high of a romance, complete with digressions on subjects such as why some men look hotter in glasses, how to seduce women by bathing in mountain lochs and the mating travails of Maddie’s lobsters (their names are Rex and Fluffy). Tessa Dare’s great talent as an author is her ability to root farcical silliness in emotional reality: Logan’s quest to give his men a life where they can heal and flourish is treated with utmost seriousness, as is the paralyzing social anxiety that led Maddie to start writing him in the first place. 

—Savanna, Managing Editor 

The Bee Sting

Was ever a family more unfortunate than the Barneses, the dysfunctional crew at the heart of Irish writer Paul Murray’s masterfully crafted fourth novel? Dickie Barnes is barely holding on to his auto dealership; his glamorous wife, Imelda, resents their fall in status. Their daughter, Cass, who plans to attend university in Dublin, may be jeopardizing that future thanks to too many nights at the pub, while 12-year-old PJ’s plan to escape his bullies is only leading him into more danger. Beginning with Cass, each family member takes a turn telling the story as they see it, unveiling layers of damage, secrets and bad luck. What keeps this tale of woe engaging across more than 600 pages is Murray’s tenderness for the Barnes family, despite their flaws. The voice of each character is refreshingly distinct, and there’s much satisfaction in seeing the puzzle pieces of their perspectives click together to create a full view of this fractured family, who love each other deeply but rarely manage to communicate that love in the right way or at the right moment. A heartfelt tragedy with a bravura ending, The Bee Sting is a strikingly human and empathetic read.

—Trisha, Publisher 

Troubles

Surely there could be no greater misfortune than that which befalls Major Brendan Archer, who, near the end of J.G. Farrell’s Troubles finds himself buried up to his neck in sand, awaiting drowning as the tide comes in. Troubles is the first in Farrell’s Empire Trilogy, a series of masterful, bleakly hilarious eviscerations of British colonialism. After returning from World War I, the Major goes to Ireland to be with his fiancée, Angela Spencer, a woman he hardly remembers. Angela’s Protestant, Anglo-Irish family runs a once-glorious hotel called The Majestic. Even through the scrupulously polite Major’s eyes, it’s clear that the Spencers are in denial about the state of the hotel and the precarity of their political situation, as tensions with the majority-Catholic people of the surrounding area rise to a deadly pitch. Still, none of them manage to bring the danger into focus, to the point that the Irish Republicans go nameless and faceless throughout the book, even as they pack rocks around the Major’s body and leave him to die. Sadly, Farrell himself met an unfortunate end: At only 44, he was swept out to sea while fishing. We can only imagine what other great novels he would have graced the canon with, had he lived longer.

—Phoebe, Associate Editor

The Odyssey

I never realized how often Odysseus wept: as Polyphemus the Cyclops wet the floor with the brains of his friends; on Aeaea when the clever witch Circe transformed his men into pigs; on the shore of Ogygia as Calypso’s captive; in the halls of the Phaeacians, as he bemoaned his misfortune. After two decades of trying and failing to read The Odyssey, I picked up Emily Wilson’s translation and saw myself in this most unlucky of men. I had long wanted to read Homer’s epic, but I found it unbearably dull and the verse too difficult to unravel. I could never even get to Scherie, let alone back to Ithaca. Wilson, the first woman to publish a translation in English, brings Homer’s epic alive. She writes in her translator’s note that other English translations render Homer’s text in “grand, ornate, rhetorically elevated English.” But the poet’s verse was not “bombastic or grandiloquent.” It was accessible, performed around the ancient world to people from all walks of life. Wilson opts instead to use straightforward language and syntax, along with good old iambic pentameter, to present a story that is full of suspense and pathos. I lost myself in The Odyssey, I found myself in Odysseus and I wept for his misfortune. 

—Erica, Associate Editor

There’s something weirdly engaging about a character who’s down on their luck. Fortunately (or not), their loss is our gain.
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Christa Comes Out of Her Shell

A lovably quirky heroine is at the center of Abbi Waxman’s Christa Comes Out of Her Shell. Scientist Christa Liddle is conducting research on her beloved sea snails on an island in the Indian Ocean when a family crisis requires her to return to Los Angeles. There, she’s forced to face an old tragedy and new drama while surrounded by her mother, older sisters and childhood friends and enemies. Christa begins to see herself and others differently, including her onetime teenage crush, Nate Donovan. Told in first person and punctuated with media clips and Christa’s charming drawings, the story slowly reveals the Liddle family’s history and Christa’s own vulnerabilities. While the will-they-won’t-they love story between Christa and Nate is definitely a through line, it seems safe to predict another romance too—that of readers losing their hearts to the eccentric, larger-than-life Liddle clan.

The Lady He Lost

In The Lady He Lost by Faye Delacour, Lieutenant Eli Williams returns to early Victorian London after being presumed dead—completely upending the world of Jane Bishop, an impoverished spinster who was once devoted to him. It’s been two years since he endured a shipwreck and being kidnapped by pirates, and Eli discovers his fiancée married another, his brother spent his savings and Jane, the woman he actually loved, will barely look at him. But he’s determined to make things better, despite general suspicion about why it took him so long to get home and Jane’s declaration that while she still cares for him, she can’t imagine a future as his second choice. Can their burning desire for each other overcome these hurdles? Balls and gowns and picnics in the rain add historical flavor, as does Jane’s quest for financial autonomy. With its engaging leads and well-drawn supporting characters, The Lady He Lost is a highly entertaining read.

Old Flames and New Fortunes

Prepare to swoon while enjoying the ever-so-romantic Old Flames and New Fortunes by Sarah Hogle. Romina Tempest and her sister run The Magick Happens, a mystical shop in their small hometown of Moonville, Ohio. Romina’s floral arrangements, which use the language of flowers to nurture romantic hopes, are some of the store’s most popular offerings. But after an unforgettable first love and a disastrous recent relationship, Romina avoids entangling her own heart. But when that same first love, Alex King, returns to town, he and Romina must confront what went wrong and decide if they can move forward as more mature and forgiving lovers. Told from Romina’s perspective, this love story has witty banter, steamy love scenes and heartfelt apologies, but it’s Alex’s eloquent devotion that will melt the flintiest of readers. The colorful cast includes families both biological and created, and the promise of magic in the air adds extra sparkle.

This month’s column features second-chance love stories that will warm even the most skeptical of hearts.
STARRED REVIEW

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Recent Reviews

The best new books of the month include highly anticipated follow-ups from Sloane Crosley, Sasha LaPointe and Juan Gómez-Jurado.
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This Could Be Us

In Kennedy Ryan’s satisfying This Could Be Us, a woman rebuilds her life and finds an unexpected love. Soledad Barnes prides herself on her homemaking and family-tending prowess. But then her husband’s betrayal and their ensuing divorce puts it all at risk. Armed with determination and love for her daughters, as well as a posse of fabulous sisters and girlfriends, Soledad figures out a way to use her domestic goddess skills to keep a roof over her family’s head. When the incredibly sexy Judah enters her life, he feels so right—but Soledad doesn’t know whether she can trust her heart again. Ryan’s vibrant characters and delightful descriptions of food and friendship perfectly complement Sol’s story. Readers will want to eat at her table and be one of her best pals, cheering her on to a very deserved happy ending. This tender, sensual and sigh-worthy tale also includes nuanced glimpses of Judah’s joys and concerns as the father of twin boys with autism.

Happily Never After

Two cynics change their minds regarding matters of the heart in Happily Never After by Lynn Painter. Desperate to stop her wedding to a cheating groom, Chicagoan Sophie Steinbeck turns to Max Parks. An architect by day, Max has fallen into a side gig of showing up to nuptials and pretending to be a lovelorn objector. Sophie and Max hit it off right away, and soon they’re teaming up to help others at (off?) the altar. Though they stubbornly resist the idea of a relationship with each other, their chemistry is off the charts and the fun they have together—whether they’re objecting or just hanging out—will leave the reader wondering why Sophie and Max try so hard not to fall. With smoking love scenes and memorable secondary characters, Happily Never After is a delight.

Trouble

An unlikely heroine passes herself off as a governess in Trouble, Lex Croucher’s Regency rom-com. Her kindhearted sister is unable to take on the job and her family is desperate for funds, so Emily Laurence travels to the home of the Edwards family, hoping to disguise her identity, lack of interest in children and generally surly attitude toward mostly everything. Croucher borrows some genre conventions—a remote house, a brooding widower hero, children needing care—and adds the unscrupulous Emily, whose prickly exterior hides a fierce loyalty to those she loves. Which, surprisingly to the imposter governess, turns out to increasingly include her eccentric fellow staffers, the Edwards children and Ben, Captain Edwards himself. But secrets abound, and Emily’s own make her certain no happiness awaits her. Readers will revel in watching Emily learn to trust in this fun, funny and fast-paced story.

There’s nothing more heartwarming than watching deeply cynical or understandably wary characters find love in spite of themselves.
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The Phoenix Bride, Natasha Siegel’s stunning sophomore novel, is a breathtakingly beautiful novel about forbidden love in 17th-century London.

The year is 1666, one year after the bubonic plague wreaked havoc on London. Young widow Cecilia Thorowgood lost her husband, who was a childhood friend and a love match, to the disease. Without financial means of her own, Cecilia finds herself trapped in her sister’s home, deep in the throes of a paralyzing depression and hounded by a slew of doctors who try to cure it with scalpels and leeches. When Cecilia shows no signs of improvement, her sister decides to take the risk of hiring a foreign doctor. David Mendes is not only Portuguese, but also Jewish. He and his father recently immigrated to England, where they can publicly practice their faith. Their new home is a marked improvement from Portugal, but antisemitism still runs rampant. However, David and Cecilia form a friendship despite the social barriers between them, born out of their grief over the loss of loved ones. Cecilia deeply mourns her husband, and David has yet to move on from the death of Manuel, a friend whom he loved secretly for years. As the two begin to heal, they realize the love they have for each other is beyond anything they could have imagined. But is it enough to help them overcome seemingly insurmountable societal odds?

This book will break you open with its beautiful writing, and readers will find themselves wringing their hands, wondering how on earth David and Cecilia could ever be together. Siegel does not soften history to make it easier for her characters to find love, a popular tactic in other queer historical romances. Instead, she finds subtle ways for her characters to bend the rules while not outright disregarding them, allowing them to find their own happily ever after even though traditional markers like marriage remain out of reach. David and Cecilia’s victory feels realistic and hard won, pushing readers to reconsider what an HEA looks like. And while Seigel handles many heavy subjects in The Phoenix Bride such as grief, trauma, antisemitism and biphobia, the romance doesn’t feel weighed down by these issues. Cecilia is a darkly funny heroine and while David is a more serious foil for her, they have a charming ease with each other that creates lighter moments to balance the weightier aspects of the story.

The Phoenix Bride is a gorgeous romance about healing from trauma, making peace with grief and finding love where it doesn’t seem possible. This glorious follow-up to her debut, Solomon’s Crown, firmly establishes Seigel as a writer to watch.

Natasha Siegel’s beautifully written The Phoenix Bride pushes readers to reconsider what happily ever after looks like.
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Megan Frampton has once again brought history to vivid, technicolor life with the third installment of her School for Scoundrels series, Her Adventures in Temptation. This bold foray into the world of Regency damsels and the scoundrels who drive them crazy is spirited and scandalous, and Frampton’s refreshing voice gives the popular fake-relationship trope new wings. 

Simeon Jones was raised by a single mother who taught him that art comes before everything . . . even love. It’s a hard mantra to shake, but he’s not a vain, cruel player. Rather, Simeon is the sensitive hunk of his group of friends, the Bastard Five. Despite the white lies and tiny manipulations he employs to navigate high society as an illegitimate artist, he’s earnest and sweet under it all.

He’s drawn to Lady Myrtle Allen, a well-to-do yet unconventional woman. Confident, independent and intelligent with a head for numbers, Myrtle enjoys eating cake and helping other women manage their finances, and she intends to make her way to London to establish a home away from her interfering, controlling family. But as upper-class Regency women cannot travel alone, Myrtle navigates her first business negotiation, paying Simeon to journey with her while posing as her husband. 

Many Regency novels are super chatty, full of double-entendre and doublespeak. Frampton’s style follows suit, but her writing is as smart as her characters. Simeon and Myrtle don’t lob banter back and forth; rather, they volley information at each other with precision and speed. The characters’ different communication styles perfectly fill in the blanks for their other half: Myrtle is frank and practical, telling the truth when nobody else will; Simeon protects his soft heart with studied, elegant courtesy.

As Simeon and Myrtle fall in love, they realize that they can not only have love and their careers, but also the joy of respecting and elevating their partner’s work. It’s so easy to pull for them both, because they so clearly pull for each other.

Megan Frampton’s refreshing voice gives the fake-engagement trope new wings in Her Adventures in Temptation.
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Martha Waters’ fifth and final Regency Vows romance, To Woo and to Wed, ends the series on a high note. In this second-chance romance, Waters once again brings us into a world full of heat and charm, where love matches are plentiful and happily ever afters are guaranteed.

Life as a widow isn’t half-bad for Lady Sophie Bridewell. In fact, it’s quite freeing. She can spend her days in the library reading and eating French pastries to her heart’s content. Not too shabby! But when her sister Alexandra, who is also a widow, shares that she is being courted but doesn’t want to get married and leave Sophie alone, well, that just won’t do. A decade ago, she rejected her own true love, the Marquess of Weston, rather than jeopardize her sisters’ potential betrothals, and she refuses to let that sacrifice be for nothing. Instead, Sophie approaches West with a proposition: They’ll fake an engagement until Alexandra is married, then go their separate ways. This actually works out quite well for West, whose malevolent, meddling father has begun pushing him to marry. A fake engagement to the woman he loves—er, loved—should be easy. But as their “fake” feelings get more and more real, Sophie and West must work to leave the past behind and look towards the future.

In a Waters romance, friend groups are supportive and families are, for the most part, loving. (Parents even make sex jokes about their children’s love lives!) Regency novels are a very popular subgenre, especially after the success of “Bridgerton,” but Waters’ work is still exciting, fun and fresh. She twists the norms of the time to suit her own purposes and creates characters that feel shockingly contemporary. Sophie and West are some of her most endearing leads; you’d be hard pressed to find two people more worthy of love. The responsibility they believe they owe to their families and to each other constantly tugs them in different directions. Both are so deeply invested in being a noble martyr that, at a certain point, you just want to force them to sit down and talk instead of continuing to assume what’s best for each other. But isn’t that part of the fun and frustration (funstration? frun?) of reading romance? Watching two people dance around each other and feeling the tension build until they tear each other’s clothes off and bang until their problems are solved? Destiny is waiting for these two, if they can just get out of their own way.

To Woo and to Wed is a perfect ending to the Regency Vows series, solidifying its status as one of the most entertaining historical romance series on shelves today.

To Woo and to Wed is a perfect ending to the Regency Vows series, solidifying its status as one of the most entertaining historical romance series on shelves today.
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STARRED REVIEW

February 6, 2024

3 fabulous fake-relationship romances

There’s nothing quite as delicious as a romance that isn’t real—until it is.

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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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There’s nothing quite as delicious as a romance that isn’t real—until it is. 
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Haunted by the death of her sister, Finola Shanahan has resolved that she’s not worthy of a family of her own and commits to spending her days caring for immigrants in the slums. Unwilling to consider marriage, Finola has perfected the ability to sabotage the relationships her parents arrange for her. At wit’s end, her father calls upon the local Irish matchmaker, who pairs her with successful wagonmaker Riley Rafferty. After her usual tricks fail, Finola quickly realizes she can’t outsmart or outwit the dashing, determined, and daring man.

A candidate in the St. Louis mayoral election, Riley is confident a union with the wealthy Shanahan family will help solidify his chances of winning–and even more assured he and Finola can make a difference together. When a cholera outbreak begins to take St. Louis by storm, they must navigate a burgeoning attraction and growing danger testing all they know about love and sacrifice.

Escape to 1849 St. Louis for a daring and romantic tale from the talented pen of bestselling author Jody Hedlund.
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that all the young ladies who make their debut are looking for one thing and one thing only: a wealthy husband. Or are they? In Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend by Emma R. Alban, our heroines Beth and Gwen want anything but. When the two meet at a party early in the social season (Gwen’s fourth and Beth’s first), they hit it off immediately. They decide to spend their time setting up their widowed parents instead of searching for their own husbands, hoping that a happy marriage between the two will allow Gwen and Beth a bit more freedom. There is just one small problem: Their parents seem to have had a romance of sorts in the past, and now might actually hate each other. Never ones to say no to a challenge, Gwen and Beth find every excuse to spend more time together and plot their parents’ inevitable union. But when a suitor begins to express interest in Beth, the two must face the fact that the love story they are crafting might just be their own.

A cheeky, queer twist on the The Parent Trap, Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend is a rollicking romp through Victorian England. Alban crafts a deliciously clever romance for Gwen and Beth. While the girls are helping their parents reconnect, they are able to first explore a friendship, one that naturally gives way to their own true feelings. Gwen and Beth are a fantastically fun couple, and it’s such a delight to watch them discover their love for each other. The juxtaposition of the young women’s new and exciting feelings with their cynical, seasoned parents’ second chance at love provides a great balance to the narrative. Alban captures all of these feelings on the way to providing two satisfying and hopeful HEAs. And while the love stories shine, the familial relationships are also noteworthy and charming. Although they couldn’t be more different, Gwen’s devil-may-care father and Beth’s wary, weary mother both show that a parent’s love knows no bounds.

If you are looking for a bighearted queer romance with stolen kisses and grand gestures, then Alban’s Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend is the book for you. A sweet and sensual historical romance, it will have you full of champagne giggles and matchmaking mischief.

Emma R. Alban’s Don’t Want You Like a Best Friend is a bighearted, queer and historical spin on The Parent Trap.
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★ An Inconvenient Earl

Julia London delivers a delightful heroine and a happy ending that at first appears impossible in An Inconvenient Earl. To her everlasting relief, Emma Clark’s cruel earl of a husband left her behind in England when he embarked on an expedition to Africa. After many months, a stranger arrives with the bad tidings that her husband has died, meaning Emma will be left without a home or funds—unless she doesn’t tell anyone the news. That tangled web is made even stickier when the very attractive Luka Olivien, Earl of Marlaine, arrives to return Emma’s husband’s pocket watch. He knows that she’s a widow but she . . . doesn’t? Luka’s confused by her increasingly clear attempts to dodge what he knows to be true, but he also can’t resist the charming and now smitten Emma. Characters from previous books make welcome appearances in this fourth entry in London’s Royal Match series, and while this Victorian romance seems like a romp, there is wrenching emotion and a beating heart of gold underneath. 

The Night Island

Jayne Ann Krentz’s Lost Night Files series follows a trio of women who team up to determine the cause of their new psychic abilities. In the latest spooky entry, The Night Island, one of the trio, podcaster Talia March, is trying to figure out what happened to Phoebe, a fan who had some vital information but has recently disappeared. Professor Luke Rand is also on Phoebe’s trail, and clues lead him and Talia to Night Island, where an exclusive, unplugged retreat is about to begin. The pair soon discover that they’re in danger from someone at the retreat and maybe from the island itself, which is inhabited by creepy and threatening vegetation. The Pacific Northwest setting enhances this shivery, senses-tickling read. As usual, Krentz’s name on the cover guarantees imaginative, immersive entertainment.

Red String Theory

A scientist and an artist test their opposite philosophies of life and love in Red String Theory by Lauren Kung Jessen. Rooney Gao is a struggling, striving artist in New York City. Jack Liu is a NASA engineer in Los Angeles. They have one night of near-magical connection, but then their numbers exchange goes awry. Fast forward a few months and Rooney is hired by NASA to be Artist-in-Residence with Jack as her liaison. Their attraction blossoms again, but logical Jack can’t swallow Rooney’s belief in the Chinese legend that a red string of fate connects everyone to their true love. The pair contemplate science, art, fate, choice and belief as they fall in love. Jessen writes such sympathetic, well-rounded characters that even cynics may believe in soulmates after reading this brainy, kisses-only love story.

Plus, a delightful Victorian romp and a brainy contemporary love story charm our romance columnist.

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