An interracial attraction complicates an alluring romance in a book with a likable, grounded heroine.

MIXED BUSINESS

A black woman falls for her white boss—and then finds her life in danger—in Zoe’s debut romantic thriller, set in the 1990s.

Nora Richards has worked her way up to her current position at Tillman and Associates, a marketing and public relations firm in an unnamed but apparently American city. The 27-year-old is the “relations coordinator,” a job that mostly consists of billing and collections. But Nora’s biggest obstacle is organizing old, handwritten paper files. She reports to Cheryl, supervisor of customer accounts, but is awaiting a new boss. After meeting and spending a flirtatious evening with Mr. Douglas, a handsome stranger, Nora learns that he is her new boss, Sherman. This is the first time that Nora, who is black, has been attracted to a white man like Sherman. Meanwhile, Nora gets a threatening phone call; a female voice demands she give up “that Johnson file.” She has no idea what that file is, though Cheryl, who suddenly and mysteriously took a job in Italy, had earlier requested it. The telephonic threat quickly escalates into a physical assault against Nora. While she’s subsequently determined to find that file, Nora resists her attraction to Sherman even if the feelings are unquestionably mutual. This novel is more romance than thriller, and the author devotes ample time to character development. Nora is a tenacious protagonist, diving into a heavy workload with gusto and few complaints. Her romance with Sherman is equally appealing and faces believable challenges, including people who object to the relationship or imply that Nora trades sex for better job prospects. Impressively, Zoe gives potency to a steamy scene and occasional violence in simple prose, sans coarse or explicit language. The story is nevertheless predictable on the thriller front, from where the Johnson file is to the identity of at least one person menacing Nora.

An interracial attraction complicates an alluring romance in a book with a likable, grounded heroine.

Pub Date: Dec. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-72830-106-8

Page Count: 390

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2020

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Fresh and upbeat, though not without flaws.

THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS

An earnest grad student and a faculty member with a bit of a jerkish reputation concoct a fake dating scheme in this nerdy, STEM-filled contemporary romance.

Olive Smith and professor Adam Carlsen first met in the bathroom of Adam's lab. Olive wore expired contact lenses, reducing her eyes to temporary tears, while Adam just needed to dispose of a solution. It's a memory that only one of them has held onto. Now, nearly three years later, Olive is fully committed to her research in pancreatic cancer at Stanford University's biology department. As a faculty member, Adam's reputation precedes him, since he's made many students cry or drop their programs entirely with his bluntness. When Olive needs her best friend, Anh, to think she's dating someone so Anh will feel more comfortable getting involved with Olive's barely-an-ex, Jeremy, she impulsively kisses Adam, who happens to be standing there when Anh walks by. But rumors start to spread, and the one-time kiss morphs into a fake relationship, especially as Adam sees there's a benefit for him. The university is withholding funds for Adam's research out of fear that he'll leave for a better position elsewhere. If he puts down more roots by getting involved with someone, his research funds could be released at the next budgeting meeting in about a month's time. After setting a few ground rules, Adam and Olive agree that come the end of September, they'll part ways, having gotten what they need from their arrangement. Hazelwood has a keen understanding of romance tropes and puts them to good use—in addition to fake dating, Olive and Adam are an opposites-attract pairing with their sunny and grumpy personalities—but there are a couple of weaknesses in this debut novel. Hazelwood manages to sidestep a lot of the complicated power dynamics of a student-faculty romance by putting Olive and Adam in different departments, but the impetus for their fake relationship has much higher stakes for Adam. Olive does reap the benefits of dating a faculty member, but in the end, she's still the one seemingly punished or taunted by her colleagues; readers may have been hoping for a more subversive twist. For a first novel, there's plenty of shine here, with clear signs that Hazelwood feels completely comfortable with happily-ever-afters.

Fresh and upbeat, though not without flaws.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-33682-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A heartfelt look at taking second chances, in life and in love.

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BEACH READ

Two struggling authors spend the summer writing and falling in love in a quaint beach town.

January Andrews has just arrived in the small town of North Bear Shores with some serious baggage. Her father has been dead for a year, but she still hasn’t come to terms with what she found out at his funeral—he had been cheating on her mother for years. January plans to spend the summer cleaning out and selling the house her father and “That Woman” lived in together. But she’s also a down-on-her-luck author facing writer’s block, and she no longer believes in the happily-ever-after she’s made the benchmark of her work. Her steadily dwindling bank account, though, is a daily reminder that she must sell her next book, and fast. Serendipitously, she discovers that her new next-door neighbor is Augustus Everett, the darling of the literary fiction set and her former college rival/crush. Gus also happens to be struggling with his next book (and some serious trauma that unfolds throughout the novel). Though the two get off to a rocky start, they soon make a bet: Gus will try to write a romance novel, and January will attempt “bleak literary fiction.” They spend the summer teaching each other the art of their own genres—January takes Gus on a romantic outing to the local carnival; Gus takes January to the burned-down remains of a former cult—and they both process their own grief, loss, and trauma through this experiment. There are more than enough steamy scenes to sustain the slow-burn romance, and smart commentary on the placement and purpose of “women’s fiction” joins with crucial conversations about mental health to add multiple intriguing layers to the plot.

A heartfelt look at taking second chances, in life and in love.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0673-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Jove/Penguin

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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