A brisk, spirited novella about a man’s quest for true love, from a hip author with potential.

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COCKBLOCKED

A divorced ne’er-do-well seeks to reinvigorate his stagnant life by digging up the past in Willow’s debut novel.

Despite its risqué title, this tale about a man trying to rekindle an old high school flame is amiable and entertaining. It follows the adventures of Steve Collins, a downtrodden 30-something Pittsburgh insurance company human-resources director haunted by dreams of a better life. After a year and a half of homeownership, he swiftly backed out of his unfulfilling life and love by getting a divorce. Now, as a newly single fellow, he trolls Internet dating sites for female companionship, which results in pages of humorous attempts to connect with the opposite sex: Suzie looks “exactly like her photo, age-progressed twenty years”; Kathy seems nice but is secretly attached; and Paula has nine rescue-shelter cats. Then Jennifer Mello, a beautiful, out-of-his-league brunette he’d let slip away back in high school, reappears at his workplace looking for a job. Twenty years have improved Jennifer’s attractiveness along with her career acumen, the love-struck Steve observes. Although she initially declines his attentions, he insinuates himself into her life—even as his pessimistic friends Paulie and Chris and his amiable, unfaithful ex-wife, Sara, advise against living in the past. A highly coincidental chance meeting brings Steve and Jennifer face to face again, and they date until former classmate Bobby (the “cockblocker” of the title), who also feels puppy love for Jennifer, threatens to sabotage Steve’s romantic strategy. Willow concludes his short tale with a confusing one-page epilogue that switches the narrative’s point of view. This novel is stunted by its brevity and lack of plot development, and it only minimally explores the idea that “no one ever recovers from high school.” However, this deceptively slim, effective story about reinvigorating a past love will surely entertain fans of romance and other readers looking for an uncomplicated, breezy, and fun beach distraction. It has a winning protagonist whose need for love and acceptance will likely resonate with every reader.

A brisk, spirited novella about a man’s quest for true love, from a hip author with potential.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1503224681

Page Count: 100

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2015

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Another success for the publishing phenom.

UNDER CURRENTS

An abused boy fights back, escapes, then returns as an attorney to his beloved hometown, but just as he’s falling in love with a transplanted landscaper, a series of attacks from shadowy enemies jeopardizes their happiness.

“From the outside, the house in Lakeview Terrace looked perfect.” Which of course means that it wasn't. We're introduced to the horrifying Dr. Graham Bigelow, who beats his wife and, increasingly as the boy gets older, his son, Zane. On the night of Zane’s prom, a particularly savage attack puts him and his sister in the hospital, and his father blames Zane, landing him in jail. Then his sister stands up for him, enlisting the aid of their aunt, and everything changes, mainly due to Zane’s secret diaries. Nearly 20 years later, Zane leaves a successful career as a lawyer to return to Lakeview, where his aunt and sister live with their families, deciding to hang a shingle as a small-town lawyer. Then he meets Darby McCray, the landscaper who’s recently relocated and taken the town by storm, starting with the transformation of his family’s rental bungalows. The two are instantly intrigued by each other, but they move slowly into a relationship neither is looking for. Darby has a violent past of her own, so she is more than willing to take on the risk of antagonizing a boorish local family when she and Zane help an abused wife. Suddenly Zane and Darby face one attack after another, and even as they grow ever closer under the pressure, the dangers become more insidious. Roberts’ latest title feels a little long and the story is slightly cumbersome, but her greatest strength is in making the reader feel connected to her characters, so “unnecessary details” can also charm and engage.

Another success for the publishing phenom.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-20709-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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A romantic suspense that skillfully balances both elements.

THE DECEPTION

A successful businesswoman hires a smooth-talking bounty hunter to find a lead on her sister’s murder.

Kate Gallagher was the only one available to identify her younger sister Chrissy’s body after she was found dead, having run away from home two years earlier. Since Chrissy succumbed to drugs and turned to sex work to survive, her murder isn't taken seriously by the local homicide department. Kate is filled with grief and regret at not having been there for her sister, and she’s determined to find her killer as a kind of penance. Jason Maddox is the charming man Kate almost hooked up with at a local bar. He also happens to be on the payroll of the most successful investigation company in Dallas. He’s all too eager to help Kate out and spend more time getting to know the blonde he danced with at the Sagebrush Saloon. At first, Kate and Jason vow to keep things professional until the case is solved; there’s obvious attraction that they’re willing to pursue at a later date. But the increasing sense of danger mixed with Kate and Jason’s close proximity proves to be too heady of a combination. The tension never lets up as the pair visit seedy bars and interrogate unsavory characters. With a steamy romance and undeniably hot chemistry, the main characters are well matched. They’re both driven, slightly stubborn, and enjoy the adrenaline rush of catching criminals. Martin (The Conspiracy, 2019, etc.) doesn’t skimp on graphic, violent details as Chrissy’s murder leads her couple to something much bigger: human trafficking. Though not for the faint of heart given its weighty material, this is an un-put-down-able page-turner that’s sure to satisfy fans of romance and thrillers alike.

A romantic suspense that skillfully balances both elements.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-335-00769-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harlequin HQN

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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