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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.

Never Wager With a Wallflower, Virginia Heath’s third (and sadly, final) entry in her thoroughly gratifying Merriwell Sisters series, is an enemies-to-lovers romance full of delightful repartee between two complex lead characters. 

Handsome Galahad “Gal” Sinclair is one step closer to fulfilling his dreams of opening a swank and luxurious gambling hall. After moving to England from America as a youngster due to woeful family circumstances, Gal applied all the lessons his grandfather taught him about the gambling business, and has finally saved enough to purchase a property in London’s notorious Covent Garden district, which was infamous in the Regency era for its crime and debauchery. While admiring his new acquisition, he bumps into Miss Venus “Vee” Merriwell and discovers that the aloof Vee, his cousin’s wife’s sister, volunteers at the orphanage next door. Realizing they will be seeing each other frequently, Gal tries to smooth over their previously adversarial relationship. But will Gal be able to drop his unflappable facade, and will Vee be able to move beyond her impression of him as a selfish playboy? Especially when she thinks the property he bought was basically stolen from the orphanage?

Gal and Vee are likable protagonists and worthy adversaries. They both have strong personalities, egos and visions for their futures, and each has misconceptions about the other that fuels their continued antipathy. Heath efficiently conveys their backstories: Vee’s through diary entries that explain her romantic disappointments and disdain for men; and Gal’s through Heath’s judicious third-person narration and Vee’s investigations into his past. This information lends context and nuance to Vee’s battle to keep the orphanage running and Gal’s desire to recreate his family’s fortune, which in turn makes their efforts to achieve their goals while not destroying their mutually blossoming love all the more enthralling. Heath’s stylish voice nimbly portrays Vee and Gal’s stormy and flirtatious courtship. Their witty conversations will keep readers engaged, with fingers firmly crossed for the couple to succeed in both work and love. 

Blending charm, heartache and humor, Never Wager With a Wallflower is a glorious indulgence for lovers of Regency romance.

Blending charm, heartache and humor, Never Wager With a Wallflower is a glorious indulgence for lovers of Regency romance.
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In many romance novels, love requires exposure: of one’s true desires and inner secrets, often of one’s most vulnerable self. In this month’s best romances, characters can only find happiness after first finding themselves—and sharing that truth with their partner.

Behind the Scenes

Karelia Stetz-Waters pens a tender love story in Behind the Scenes. Director Ash Stewart is preparing to pitch a movie near and dear to her heart—a rom-com about two lonely women who fall in love—so she turns to successful business consultant Rose Josten for help polishing the proposal she’ll present to movie executives. While the entertainment industry is not Rose’s forte, she’s intrigued by the idea of the film as well as by the cool yet vulnerable Ash. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace that suits the cautious main characters; while Rose and Ash fall fast, they don’t trust that their attraction will result in anything real. Readers will cheer for these capable, talented and mature women, both of whom have fascinating careers and interesting hobbies. They just need to find the right person to help them fill the empty spaces and heal their wounds. Rose and Ash’s feelings for each other are never in doubt thanks to Stetz-Waters’ expertly written longing and lush love scenes. And a fairy tale-perfect happy ending guarantees smiles as the last page is turned.

Also in BookPage: Read our review of the Behind the Scenes audiobook.

Not Your Ex’s Hexes

After Rose Maxwell’s sister took over her role as witch leader-in-waiting, Rose is in need of some new life goals. An ill-advised horse-napping at the beginning of April Asher’s dashing and delightful paranormal romance Not Your Ex’s Hexes results in Rose sentenced to community service at an animal sanctuary under the close supervision of half-demon vet Damian Adams. All kinds of sparks fly between them, but he’s grumpy and she’s not interested in relationships. But a friends-with-benefits arrangement seems possible and maybe even sensible until they must face danger—and all the emerging emotions they’ve vowed not to feel. In fact, Damian is sure he can’t actually be feeling them, having been hexed as a teen, but all signs are pointing to the opposite. Asher’s second installment in the Supernatural Singles series is full of action and well-constructed characters. Heart-tugging animals and steamy love scenes make this otherworldly romance a charmer.

Do I Know You?

Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka have written an intriguing twist on the second-chance romance in Do I Know You? In honor of their fifth anniversary, Eliza and Graham Cutler head to a luxury resort in Northern California, hoping a vacation might revive their stalled marriage. Upon learning that there’s been a hotel mix-up and they have two rooms booked instead of one, Eliza impulsively proposes that they sleep separately. Moreover, she suggests they take on new personas so they can meet as strangers and possibly rediscover a spark between them. While hiking, eating and exercising together as their alter egos, Graham and Eliza each come to value new things about the other and recall what led to their original commitment. Readers will root for both characters in this mature and intimate examination of a relationship.

The Duke Gets Even

A happy ending seems impossible in Joanna Shupe’s The Duke Gets Even. Andrew Talbot, the Duke of Lockwood, is desperate to wed an heiress and fill his family’s coffers. But then his antagonistic relationship with free-spirited American Nellie Young transforms into a burning passion. The duke lost out on love in the previous installments of Shupe’s Fifth Avenue Rebels series, and it doesn’t seem like his luck will change: He needs to marry for money, and Nellie can’t imagine life as an English duchess. An affair with Andrew as he seeks the right bride will have to be enough, except, of course, it quickly isn’t. The appealing Nellie wants more for herself and other women of her time, and she’s not at all ashamed of her sexual appetites. Honorable Andrew feels the weight of his responsibilities, yet the fiery ardor he shares with Nellie—featured in feverish love scenes—turns his world upside down. Sensuous and sophisticated, The Duke Gets Even is a satisfying climax to a wonderful and romantic series.

Make a Wish

Romances between a single father and a nanny are a beloved genre staple, but author Helena Hunting explores the trope sans rose-colored glasses in Make a Wish. When she was 20 years old, Harley Spark worked as a nanny for newly widowed Gavin Rhodes. She fell in love with his baby daughter, Peyton, and perhaps with him, before Gavin and Peyton moved away. Seven years later, Gavin and Harley reconnect—and there is an obvious attraction between them. Their happily ever after appears inevitable, until grief, guilt and in-laws step in. Make a Wish chronicles Gavin and Harley’s authentic doubts and fears, with sizzling love scenes and sweet moments creating a sigh-worthy love story.

In this month’s best romances, characters can only find true love after first finding themselves.
STARRED REVIEW
January 30, 2023

The best books to read this Valentine’s Day

It can be hard to know where to begin when it comes to picking a book for the most romantic day of the year, but we promise you’ll fall in love with these 9 romances from authors like Kate Clayborn and Olivia Dade.
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Book jacket image for The Key to My Heart by Lia Louis

The Key to My Heart

The Key to My Heart by Lia Louis is a poignant romance with astute observations about life after the loss.
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In Olivia Dade’s charming, sexy Ship Wrecked, a one-night stand leads to a six-year slow-burn romance.
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Kennedy Ryan’s Before I Let Go is a heavy but hopeful second-chance romance that follows a divorced couple who find their way back to each ...
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It can be hard to know where to begin when it comes to picking a book for the most romantic day of the year, but we promise you'll fall in love with these 9 romances from authors like Kate Clayborn and Olivia Dade.
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KJ Charles’ latest historical romance, The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen, is best described as a queer version of “Poldark.” It’s an adventurous cross-class love story set in the marshy hinterlands of England’s County Kent, as the Napoleonic Wars rage in the background. 

The action-packed and intrigue-filled plot begins with a union of virtual opposites. Gareth Inglis, a gently bred law clerk, and Joss Doomsday, a charismatic country smuggler, have little in common. But for one blissful week, they are just “Kent” and “London,” aliases signifying their respective home turfs.Their idyllic affair abruptly ends when Joss is called back home to attend to urgent family business and Gareth, who’s experienced more than his share of rejection, assumes this “family business” is just a polite brushoff. 

That would have been the end, if not for one inconvenient fact: London-raised Gareth actually hails from Romney Marsh, the same patch of Kentish land as his working-class ex-lover. And when his estranged father dies, Gareth inherits his title, country home and responsibilities. 

Just like that, Joss and Gareth’s no-strings tryst turns complicated as they find themselves not only in close proximity but also on opposite sides of the law. Joss is in charge of his family’s illegal but well-established and locally respected smuggling operation. And Gareth, now an influential local landowner by virtue of his inheritance, has a half-sister who is romantically attached to a zealous revenue officer, enemy number one in Romney Marsh, where even judges and gentry buy their goods from Joss’ family. 

The various financial and internecine quarrels are convincingly rendered and the supporting characters and setting finely textured, but it’s the tenderness and steam that emanate from Gareth and Joss that really give the story its spark. Their relationship is deeply passionate, and they have a lovely way of communicating even when they don’t have the language to articulate their feelings. Charles beautifully describes exactly what each man is going through emotionally, even when no words are exchanged: “They kissed their way past the hurt and the loneliness, kissed themselves back together . . .”

Fans of Charles’ Society of Gentlemen series and new readers alike will adore this complex and emotional historical romance.

Fans of author KJ Charles’ Society of Gentlemen series and new readers alike will adore The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen, her complex and emotional historical romance.
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Liar City

Allie Therin’s instantly intriguing Liar City is set in an alternate Seattle where some people are empaths, able to read others’ emotions just by touching them. The story begins when Reece, an empath and part-time police consultant, receives a mysterious phone call telling him that Reece’s detective sister, Jamey, needs his help. When Reece arrives at Jamey’s latest murder investigation, he also encounters the caller: empath hunter Evan Grayson, also known as the Dead Man. Enigmatic and relentless, Evan is on a mission to stop the killings, which may have something to do with the imminent passage of an anti-empath law. Reece is a very appealing viewpoint character, and chapters from Jamey’s perspective are equally engaging. Evan and Reece’s chemistry crackles throughout Liar City’s nonstop action, but be warned that they do not exchange even one intimate touch. However, as this fantastic paranormal is the first installment in Therin’s Sugar & Vice series, hopes abound for the future.

The Portrait of a Duchess

An aristocratic title reunites an estranged couple in The Portrait of a Duchess, Scarlett Peckham’s hotly anticipated second book in her Society of Sirens series. When she was young, Cornelia Ludgate secretly married horse breeder Rafe Goodwood, which freed her from the strictures of high society and allowed her to pursue painting. Twenty years later, Cornelia is an established artist and an activist for women’s rights. But when her long-estranged husband unexpectedly inherits a dukedom, he proposes that they go public with their marriage. Doing so would provide Cordelia with extra income to devote to her cause and would grant Rafe instant notoriety, which he intends to parlay into governmental reform. Though the iconoclastic pair deny their feelings, their attraction sizzles and they enjoy a mutual understanding when it comes to their desire to take lovers of all genders, both together and apart. Scorching love scenes make this white-hot read a standout.

Cold-Blooded Liar

Karen Rose begins an exciting new romantic suspense series with Cold-Blooded Liar. An anonymous tip leads San Diego detective Kit McKittrick to a body wearing a pair of pink handcuffs, echoing a murder spree 15 years earlier. To solve this latest killing, Kit must first uncover the identity of the tipper. It turns out to be do-gooder psychologist Dr. Sam Reeves, whom Kit instantly likes but must consider a suspect all the same. Kit is not a trusting woman, but as more deaths occur and the murderer hits closer to home, she must turn to Sam to help her nab the killer. The crimes are brutal, but Rose balances the story with a heroic team, lovable dogs and Kit’s warmhearted foster parents. It’s a gripping and satisfying tale, even if Kit has yet to kiss the good doctor by story’s end—which readers will surely be rooting for in the next installment.

Scarlett Peckham’s long-awaited sequel to The Rakess is here! Plus, two suspenseful series get off to a thrilling start.
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A self-published phenomenon and longtime fan favorite, romance author KJ Charles returned to traditional publishing this spring with The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen. The first installment in her Doomsday Books duology, Secret Lives introduced readers to the dangerous and exciting world of Romney Marsh, a stretch of Kentish coastline that’s home to a family of bold smugglers. A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel is set 13 years later, and follows Luke Doomsday, a scion of the smuggling clan who unexpectedly partners with Rufus d’Aumesty, the new local lord.

A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel will be available on shelves at libraries and bookstores everywhere on September 19, 2023. In the meantime, we’re thrilled to reveal its marvelous cover, which was illustrated by Jyotirmayee Patra. And read on for a Q&A with KJ Charles!

What input did you have on the individual details and the overall design for the covers of this series? What are your favorite aspects of the Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel‘s jacket, specifically?
The publisher was great with consultation. They produced the terrific concept and then we talked about the various elements at sketch stage (appropriate plants and creatures for book one, house details for book two) to make sure they fitted with the book and mood and era, and I sent photo references where necessary. For both books, we paid a lot of attention to the pose of the main characters: It was really important to me to have a sense of romantic interaction so it absolutely looked like a queer romance. I love the way that Scoundrel matches Country Gentlemen, and how it somehow has an indoor, claustrophobic, nighttime feel where Country Gentlemen is very clearly outside.

There is a 13-year time jump between The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen and A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel. Was that always the plan for the duology, or did you realize this was the direction the series was taking while writing Secret Lives? As a writer, what was intriguing and exciting about the time jump?
It was always the plan! I really wanted to dig into the knock-on effects of the events of book one on Luke, who is only 13 in the first book and has a pretty rough time with some substantial physical and mental trauma to handle. A lot of book two is about the consequences of book one—how those events affected not just Luke, but Gareth and the Doomsdays, the family dynamics and the resolution of the suspense plot. Also, of course, we’re going from a time of war and quite a high level of lawlessness and smuggling, to one of peace in which everything seems to be a lot more civilized. The Marsh has a different mood in book two; it’s calmed down a great deal.

Why did you pick the 1820s for the setting of A Nobleman’s Guide?
Honestly it was picked for me: I needed to place book one around 1810 for reasons to do with the plot, and I needed Luke to be mid-20s in book two to give him time to acquire the work and life experience he needed, while still being young enough to be stupid. I also wanted enough time to have passed that the economy was in a slightly better place than immediately post-war. I’ve already done a few books set around this time so the reading/research/feel were at my fingertips, and Scoundrel deliberately has quite a restricted setting as it takes place mostly within Stone Manor (it’s the classic gothic “big old house with horrendous family”), which does make things easier.

Both of the romances in the Doomsday Books feature a character that unexpectedly inherits an aristocratic title. What’s compelling about that dynamic for you? Why do you think it’s such a perennial plot in historical romance?
Well, it’s a great way of giving your character a ton of privilege without the tiresome personality side effects of them being brought up in that privilege! Which is to say, you can have a character who’s a lot more appealing to the modern reader without having to explain why he isn’t a spoiled entitled jerk.

I chose to have them both be inheritance books because I wanted to make a direct comparison of the situations. In book one, Gareth’s title is pretty meaningless: He’s a baronet, the least important and most numerous of inherited titles, his family is tiny and distant, and he’s not a big landowner or particularly well-off. Mostly, the title makes him rather more obvious to other people than he’d like to be, when he just wants to potter round the Marsh with Joss looking for beetles. Whereas in book two, Rufus inherits a very old earldom that does in fact give him a lot of power, but which also comes with a huge responsibility he can’t manage at first, and a massive burden of family pride he doesn’t share. Gareth has to make things work despite his title; Rufus has to make them work with his title.

Where do Rufus and Luke rank on the KJ Charles Character Scale, with 1 being “Cozy Cinnamon Roll Who Has Never Hurt a Fly” and 10 being “The Literal Devil—But Sexy”?
Rufus is a 3. He’s loud and shouty with a temper, and can be ruthless when he has to, but he’s got a very kind heart, he forgives quickly and he thinks hard about doing the right thing. Luke is . . . Luke is a Doomsday. He holds grudges forever, he’s manipulative and a shameless liar and frankly a git, and I don’t know how much he actually changes, rather than deciding to use his powers for good (and by “good,” I mean “Rufus”). He is also badly damaged by the events of book one, so deserves a bit more understanding than some other main characters of mine that I could mention, but I’d give him a solid 8: Natural Disaster. (I am really looking forward to seeing how people react to some of his more extreme decisions, ahaha.)

We’re thrilled to reveal the delightful cover of KJ Charles’ new historical romance—plus read a Q&A with the author!
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Hotel of Secrets

In Hotel of Secrets, Diana Biller whisks readers away to 1878 Vienna. Hotel Wallner is Maria Wallner’s somewhat tarnished family legacy, thanks to her unmarried parents’ decadeslong affair. She’s determined to help the place regain its former glory during Vienna’s traditional ball season. American Secret Service agent Eli Whittaker arrives at the hotel to investigate the theft of secret codes but is soon beguiled by the beautiful, sophisticated Maria and her glittering city. This delightful, highly recommended romance is chock full of fascinating history as it enchantingly depicts late 19th-century Austria, and its secondary characters are just as three-dimensional and as appealing as the leads.

Ana Maria and the Fox

Three Mexican heiresses make a splash in British high society in Liana De la Rosa’s endearing Victorian romance, Ana Maria and the Fox. When France invades Mexico, Ana Maria Luna Valdés and her sisters are sent to London for their safety. Once there, Ana Maria makes the acquaintance of Gideon Fox, an ambitious member of Parliament. The grandson of a formerly enslaved woman, Gideon is passionate about ending the slave trade and finds a sympathetic ear in Ana Maria. Sparks fly between the pair, even though Ana Maria’s already engaged to a man her powerful father approves of. But then political machinations put Ana Maria in danger, and she must turn to Gideon for help. The Lunas are a welcome addition to historical romance, and as series starring sisters are always fan favorites, readers will surely anticipate more happily ever afters from De la Rosa.

Romantic Comedy

A sketch comedy writer finds love in the time of COVID-19 in Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld. Sally Milz writes for a weekly late-night comedy show—think “Saturday Night Live.” During the frantic pace of production, she finds herself crushing on the show’s latest guest host, popular singer-songwriter Noah Brewster. Sally’s convinced she’s too average to keep his attention, and she smothers the smoldering attraction. But two years later, an email from Noah shows up in Sally’s inbox, and they become pandemic pen pals. Might they make a go of it after all? Sittenfeld does a stellar job making the reader feel not just the hectic excitement of comedy show life and Sally’s surges of adrenaline as she interacts with Noah, but also the wistful, heartfelt hope of two people sharing their pasts and their dreams via email. Noah and Sally are a charming and, of course, funny pair who are easy to root for all throughout this delightful read.

Eligible author Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book takes inspiration from “Saturday Night Live”—plus, two unabashedly glamorous historical romances.
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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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The Boyfriend Candidate

Fans of the fake-dating trope will love The Boyfriend Candidate, Ashley Winstead’s charming rom-com. When her cheating boyfriend dumps her, librarian Alexis Stone dons a red dress and heads to a swank bar to find a one-night stand. All goes well, until a fire alarm leads to her being caught on camera with the man she’s about to bed: Logan Arthur, a politician who’s running to be the governor of Texas. Logan and his team persuade Alexis to pretend she’s his longtime, previously secret girlfriend until the election. Luckily, Logan is extremely attractive and his progressive policies match her own. Cue shy Alexis finding her voice and the brash Logan continually getting distracted by the enchanting librarian. Told in Alexis’ fresh first-person voice, this heartwarming romance has both poignant introspection and a hero who sacrifices his dignity when faced with kittens and gerbils.

The Secret Service of Tea and Treason

The Secret Service of Tea and Treason, India Holton’s delightful third installment in her Dangerous Damsels series, takes place in a fantasy version of Victorian England populated by pirates, witches and spies. Alice Dearlove is a top operative with a dangerous new assignment: Find a secret weapon and stop the assassination of Queen Victoria. But to do this, she must pretend to be the wife of her professional rival, Daniel Bixby. The highly entertaining adventure that follows includes flying houses, cutthroat pirates, scary witches, farcical fun, whimsical wordplay and a castle with secret passages and professional ghosts. Daniel and Alice race around England to try and solve the case, all while putting out (literal) fires, falling in love and engaging in tender scenes of sensual awakening.

Sugar, Spice, and Can’t Play Nice

Family pressures and personal ambition clash in Sugar, Spice, and Can’t Play Nice by Annika Sharma. Fashion designer Payal Mehra has a spectacular no-strings-attached night with Ayaan Malhotra, the son of family friends and someone who is as commitment-averse as she. Unfortunately, the morning after is such a disaster that both assume they’ll never see each other again. Then their families put forth a business proposition to the couple—one that will be sealed with an arranged marriage. While both initially loathe the idea, Ayaan and Payal realize how beneficial their union could be. She’ll get funding for her clothing line and save her family’s business, while he’ll get 50% of his family’s company. They decide to go ahead with the engagement, believing they can break things off before they get dire. Readers will root for Payal and Ayaan, both of whom are buffeted by family expectations and disappointment yet persevere. Their slow journey to confidence in themselves and contentment in each other is layered with lush descriptions of South Asian fashion and food.

The pining, the will-they-won’t-they, the “Oh no, guess we have to kiss now”: Nothing beats a good fake-dating romance.

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