A reluctant stripper gives her first lap dance to a small-town sheriff in this old-school tongue-in-cheek romance.
Piper Walsh doesn’t want to work at a strip club, but it’s the only job she can get in the small town of Sweet Hill, where everyone knows that her brother was arrested for murder. She’s embarrassed when Hale Walters, the town’s new sheriff, summons her to the police department to collect her teenage sister after a night of mischief. She’s even more embarrassed when a bachelor party brings Hale to Piper’s club—and she lands right on his lap. But their attraction is undeniable, and this good boy might be better for the bad girl than she thinks. Although the story addresses issues of poverty and sexual harassment through a contemporary lens, it does so without losing the joy of a woman finding a chivalrous man (aka a male ally) right when she could use a change of scenery. When Piper says something wonderful like “you don’t own me...or my vagina” but moves in with him anyway, and Hale grabs her and says “this is mine” soon after agreeing not to pursue her romantically so as not to ruin her employment options, readers will be right there with her. No explanation needed. Sure, Hale “saves” her a couple of times, but he’s a cop; it’s his job. Piper throws a couple of good punches in this story, and that’s what counts. There’s a scene in which the wife of a lap-dance recipient confronts Piper that is laugh-out-loud funny, and the moment when Piper realizes people are rooting for her rather than judging her is something every woman, at some point in her life, has needed to hear.
From the prolific Bloom, whose novels and short stories have often explored the complexity of sexuality and gender (Lucky Us, 2014, etc.), a bio-fiction about the romance between Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok told from Hickok’s perspective.
Lorena’s winning narrative voice is tough, gossipy, and deeply humane. Her storytelling begins and continually circles back to shortly after FDR’s death. On the last weekend in April 1945, a grieving Eleanor has summoned Lorena to her Manhattan apartment years after having sent her away. Now in late middle-age, the two fall into their ingrained routine as lovers—and has anyone written about middle-aged women’s bodies and sexuality with Bloom’s affectionate grace? Lorena’s enduring love for Eleanor does not blind her to the reality of the two women’s differences: “Her propriety, my brass knuckles.” Bloom mostly depicts already familiar details of Eleanor’s history, character, and personality. More riveting are Lorena’s memories of her early life before Eleanor, from a dirt-poor childhood to a brief circus career described in arrestingly colorful detail to work as a journalist forbidden to publish her suspicion that Lindbergh staged a coverup concerning his baby’s kidnapping. Lorena and Eleanor fell in love shortly before FDR won the presidency. Given his own complicated love life, FDR accepted the affair and got Lorena a job with his administration. Lorena, far from saintly, continues to love Eleanor almost despite recognizing that Eleanor cannot help living a “sainted life.” The complexity of their mutual attraction is one of the joys of the book, particularly when Lorena recalls an Eleanor tender and even girlish during a private driving vacation to Maine they took without a Secret Service escort. Having lived as an intimate outsider within the FDR White House, Lorena also offers her admittedly biased take on the confidential crises, tragedies, and peccadilloes of the Roosevelt household.
Bloom elevates this addition to the secret-lives-of-the-Roosevelts genre through elegant prose and by making Lorena Hickok a character engrossing enough to steal center stage from Eleanor Roosevelt.
A magical, sexual, and hopeful debut novel about transcending boundaries of gender to pursue emotional connection.
Lawlor (Position Papers, 2016) writes of Paul, a shape-shifter tending bar in a college town in the mid-1990s. Paul can change his gender and appearance at will and does so as he navigates in and out of various pockets of academia and queer culture. Paul is drawn to the act of attraction; he “relied on his ability to attract only the sorts of attention he desired,” and he shifts his form as a way of constantly challenging himself to connect with more people. Paul wants access to as many circles and bodies as possible. Lawlor’s prose is taut, self-aware, and carnal. As Paul tests his “own nascent malleability,” the author explores appearance, attraction, sexuality, and identity. Paul’s youthful exuberance and thirst for hookups are foils to his persistent feelings of isolation. The book is divided into several parts, most notably shifting when a visit to a Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival leads Paul (as a woman) to both a great love, Diane, and a confrontation with his own reasons for seeking sex. “What was sex, but newness?” he asks himself. Eventually Paul has to decide on the level of intimacy he desires; specifically, who he wants to tell about his body. This suggests that intimacy is knowledge of an identity that transcends the corporeal form. Dispersed throughout the story are short chapters with the feel of legends, each fable hinting at issues of gender. In the final third of the novel, Paul moves to the Bay Area, tests the limits of his ability to hold a form, and does his most mature self-examination.
This is groundbreaking, shape- and genre-shifting work from a daring writer; a fresh novel that elevates questions of sexual identity and intimacy.
A young widow juggling single motherhood and a small business faces her past and creates a new future when her ex-brother-in-law returns after a decade’s absence.
The second book in Rai’s (Hate to Want You, 2017) Forbidden Hearts series brings Jackson Kane back to the upstate New York town that turned on his family and accused him of arson. Traveling only with what he can stash on his motorcycle, Jackson has become a pop-up chef of international renown, but he can’t outrun the pull of his family or the strong feelings he has always had for his brother’s widow, Sadia Ahmed. Sadia, the product of a family of physicians, struggles to keep her late husband Paul’s cafe afloat while defending her choices to her disapproving but loving parents: “I’ve tried to be perfect. I’ve worked really hard at it, and never really quite succeeded…I never get to be…average old me.” She may never be able to forgive Jackson, her closest childhood friend, for staying away when she desperately needed support. When Jackson shows up at the bar where Sadia pulls extra shifts to support her young son, her anger and hurt are palpable. But she reluctantly accepts Jackson’s offer of help in the cafe while processing her anger and intense attraction to him. Jackson must come to terms with the role his own family played in the tragedy that unfolded years ago. An intensely introverted man who “never turned down a socially acceptable exit,” he must find the line between self-preservation and selfishness. He cannot appreciate Sadia’s pain until he allows himself to feel his own. A potentially awkward romance between former in-laws is handled with sensitivity, as Rai manages to weave Sadia’s marriage into the narrative of her relationship with Jackson in a way that detracts from neither.
Another emotional, passionate, and psychologically complex love story in a gripping series that follows the fates of two warring families.
A lonely housewife gets a new lease on life in the strong, green arms of a sea monster.
Thanks to the support of writers like Daniel Handler and Rivka Galchen, who introduces this novella, the marvelous Ingalls (Three Masquerades, 2017, etc.) has been rescued from obscurity with reissues of her books. Mrs. Caliban was originally published in 1982 to raves that compared it to works by Edgar Allan Poe, David Lynch, Richard Yates, and Angela Carter, not to mention E.T., King Kong, and “Beauty and the Beast”—which only shows how sui generis it really is. We meet the very dear character Dorothy Caliban at home, sending her husband, Fred, off to work. He will be late, he says, not even troubling to come up with an excuse for why. After the death of their young son, followed by a miscarriage, her despair, his affair, and, finally, the running-over of their Jack Russell terrier, this marriage is more of a house-sharing arrangement than any comfort to anyone. Dorothy has one great friend, Estelle, who draws out “other people’s subversive instincts,” offering sherry and laughter to break up the long afternoons, but it’s not enough. Then, the very evening after she hears a radio report of a monster who has killed two people and escaped from the facility where he was being held, her screen door opens and a 6-foot-7-inch creature, with the bulging forehead and flat nose of a frog and the body of an attractively hunky man, shoulders his way in and stares straight into her face. “Help me,” he says. “They will kill me. I have suffered so much already.” His name is Larry, he loves avocados, he is a tireless and attentive lover—and Fred is home so little, he doesn’t even notice that Dorothy's amphibian boyfriend is living in their guest room. The plot unfolds brilliantly and heartbreakingly from there.
The love story is a delight, the social commentary sharp, the writing funny and fun—and yet the sorrow, even bitterness, at the core of this book about our perfidious species is inescapable and profound. Where is the movie?
A look at the personal toll of the criminal justice system from the author of Silver Sparrow (2011) and The Untelling (2005).
Roy has done everything right. Growing up in a working-class family in Louisiana, he took advantage of all the help he could get and earned a scholarship to Morehouse College. By the time he marries Spelman alum Celestial, she’s an up-and-coming artist. After a year of marriage, they’re thinking about buying a bigger house and starting a family. Then, on a visit back home, Roy is arrested for a crime he did not commit. Jones begins with chapters written from the points of view of her main characters. When Roy goes to prison, it becomes a novel in letters. The epistolary style makes perfect sense. Roy is incarcerated in Louisiana, Celestial is in Atlanta, and Jones’ formal choice underscores their separation. Once Roy is released, the narrative resumes a rotating first person, but there’s a new voice, that of Andre, once Celestial’s best friend and now something more. This novel is peopled by vividly realized, individual characters and driven by interpersonal drama, but it is also very much about being black in contemporary America. Roy is arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned in Louisiana, the state with the highest per-capita rate of incarceration in the United States, and where the ratio of black to white prisoners is 4 to 1. There’s a heartbreaking scene in which Celestial’s uncle—Roy’s attorney—encourages her to forget everything she knows about presenting herself while she speaks in her husband’s defense. “Now is not the time to be articulate. Now is the time to give it up. No filter, all heart.” After a lifetime of being encouraged to be “well spoken,” Celestial finds that she sounds false trying to speak unguardedly. “As I took my seat…not even the black lady juror would look at me.” This is, at its heart, a love story, but a love story warped by racial injustice. And, in it, Jones suggests that racial injustice haunts the African-American story.
Two hotheaded football players have to learn to get along after a preseason fight leaves them suspended from the NFL.
Simeon Boudreaux of the New York Barons is one of the NFL’s star quarterbacks. He’s young, beautiful, and has a wicked throwing arm. He’s also out as gay thanks to a situation involving a secret video and his best friend making the step to come out as bisexual. When the burning tension between Simeon and rival player Adrián Bravo of the New Jersey Predators—who'd taunted him with homophobic comments during a TV interview—leads to unsportsmanlike conduct on the field and an injury to boot, the two are forced into close contact as part of a summer football program at a community center in Brooklyn. Now Simeon and Adrián have to figure out how to work together—how to be in the same room together—without fists flying. When they settle for barbs instead, it evolves into an intense challenge that surprisingly helps the pair build an unexpected rapport. It also leads them to discover things about themselves and each other that neither is keen to admit. The second book in Hassell’s (Citywide, 2017, etc.) Barons series, this novel continues to explore the dangers of toxic masculinity and what might happen if it were cast aside and also features people of color as its two heroes, a choice that stands out in the world of mainstream football romance. The alternating first-person narration can lead to some confusion, but the voices are distinct enough that it’s easy to fall into the groove. On the whole, this is a deliciously dirty yet surprisingly sweet tale of two people who, in the end, want to love and be loved, whatever the obstacles might be.
A sexy and satisfying look into the hearts and minds of unlikely lovers.
When Lexie Kowalsky abandons her reality TV groom at the altar in Seattle and hops on a seaplane to Canada, she shares the flight with handsome Sean Knox, who joins her on a crazy roller coaster of publicity, spin, and romance until they realize they’re truly in love.
Lexie joined a reality wedding show to garner a little free publicity for her designer pet-clothing business but is stunned when, thanks to her competitive nature, she wins the groom. When true reality hits—she’s expected to marry a man she doesn’t love—she flees, jumping aboard a seaplane preparing for takeoff. There, she meets Sean, who's headed to Sandspit, Canada, to visit his hypochondriac mother. Sean and Lexie share an immediate attraction, but Sean is determined to keep his distance. Not only is she swimming in drama, but she also happens to be the daughter of John Kowalsky, head coach of his professional hockey team, the Chinooks. However, a photo of Lexie and her “mystery man” goes viral, turning public opinion against her and threatening her business. Back in Seattle, Lexie convinces Sean to pose as the love of her life and the reason she couldn’t marry her TV groom, which forces them to navigate their families, the television audience, and the Seattle social scene. Somewhere along the way they fall in love, but the journey to figuring it out and admitting it is both heart-wrenching and funny. Gibson’s (Just Kiss Me, 2016, etc.) Chinooks have been a favorite romance series for two decades, and this, the next chapter for Lexie and her parents, the stars of Book 1, is a highly satisfying revisit. Gibson blends emotional and comic details without turning farcical or melodramatic, showing subtlety and finesse in her storytelling and characterization.
A perfect balance of heat, humor, quirkiness, and refinement.
Stocking only vinyl in his London music shop, Frank Adair has the ability to select the perfect song to ease each customer’s spiritual crisis.
The son of a music-obsessed mother, Frank grew up learning about Beethoven’s silences, Vivaldi’s funeral, Bach’s eyes, and Miles Davis’ sly sense of humor. By the time he was a teen, he was teaching his mother, Peg, about João Gilberto, Joni Mitchell, and Van Morrison. After Peg’s death, Frank opens his store in a small cluster of shops. Defying land developers and CD–pushing record reps, Frank eschews alphabetical and genre-based organizational systems in favor of delightfully placing Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” ABC’s “The Lexicon of Love,” and Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” in the same bin—after all, each is a concept album. He’s a musical therapist, dosing heartache with Aretha Franklin and fussy babies with the Troggs. With his exuberant assistant manager, Kit, and fellow shopkeepers—including Maud, the tattoo artist; Mr. Novak, the baker; the Williams brothers, funeral directors; and Father Anthon, who has left the church to run a religious souvenir shop—Frank is part of a cozy, quirky community, well-insulated from the risks of falling in love…until Ilse Brauchmann faints in front of his store. Immediately smitten with each other, Ilse and Frank realize they are star-crossed when Ilse admits not only that she has a fiancé, but also—even worse—she doesn't listen to music. Yet she asks Frank to describe music to her; thus begins a journey into the emotional terrain charted by “The Moonlight Sonata,” “Ain’t it Funky Now, Parts 1 and 2,” and even “God Save the Queen,” the Sex Pistols’ version. Joyce (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, 2016, etc.) sets up a charming cast of characters, and her spirals into the sonic landscapes of brilliant musicians are delightful, casting a vivid backdrop for the quietly desperate romance between Frank and Ilse.
From nocturnes to punk, this musical romance is ripe for filming.
When Niels Buchanan realizes Lady Edith Drummond is being targeted by an unknown assassin, he vows to protect her, but the stakes get even higher once he acknowledges that he loves her.
The Buchanan brothers are annoyed to be sent on the frivolous task of checking on their sister’s beloved friend Lady Edith, who hasn't been answering her letters, but change their attitude when they realize the Drummonds have been poisoned. Edith lies deathly ill, while her father and two brothers are dead. Suspicion falls on her last living brother, the new Drummond laird, and his wife, who fled the castle claiming to fear contagion, but no one can find the couple to question them. Meanwhile, threats to Edith escalate, but she’s determined to lead her clan through the chaos, even as she’s weak and grieving. Niels both respects her commitment and is frustrated by what he perceives as her lack of concern for her health and safety, but as he keeps an eye on her he sees just how kind, capable, and intelligent she is, a potent blend of qualities that enhance her physical beauty. Niels concludes the easiest way to keep her safe is to marry her, which would also block her brother’s rumored plan to send her to a convent. However, when another gruesome discovery makes it clear the murderer wants more Drummonds dead, Edith and the Buchanans must figure out how to bring the criminal out of the shadows. As the threats get closer, Niels and Edith do too, discovering a shared life worth fighting for, full of unexpected love, friendship, and passion. Sands (Immortally Yours, 2017, etc.) heads back to her Buchanan Highlanders with an intriguing mystery, interesting characters, and some unexpected twists that will keep readers guessing.
A sexy, delightful must-read for historical romance fans.