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November 29, 2018 at 05:37 PM EST

The year is winding down once again, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is ramping up, and the days are getting shorter and shorter. But one thing remains true no matter the amount of daylight we have or holiday cheer we feel: There are new romance novels promising us happily-ever-afters. Whether they’re sweet family tales of two people trying to do right by their community or steamier enemy-to-lover interludes, these five titles are here to put a smile on our face.

Kensington

Their Perfect Melody
By Priscilla Oliveras
Review: Priscilla Oliveras concludes her Matched to Perfection series with Their Perfect Melody, a tale of two hard-headed, kindhearted individuals who come together over music and their dedication to their community. Lili Fernandez is a woman who’s found her passion for music and dancing muffled by her father’s death. Instead, she’s channeled her loss into becoming a victim’s advocate, barreling headfirst into helping domestic violence victims, addicts, and more. Diego Reyes is equally dedicated to his community, concealing his bleeding heart under his black-and-white worldview as a cop and unhealed wounds tied to his sister’s drug use. While this might sound like the setup for a heavy story with a lot of angst, it isn’t. Oliveras keeps her tone light and lilting throughout, allowing readers to coast along on the story as if swaying on one of the dance floors her characters love so well. Diego’s refusal to let anyone in and Lili’s frustration at being underestimated can occasionally border on irritating, but they do create believable conflict. And Oliveras mostly manages to pull them back from their worst tendencies before they become truly grating. A highlight of any Oliveras novel is how effortlessly her celebration of her culture lifts off the page, from her sprinkling of Spanish throughout to the large family meals sharing traditional dishes to the distinct flavor of the music and dance styles she emphasizes. Readers will feel utterly carried away in Lili and Diego’s world, with the upbringing and values that color the decisions they make tenderly woven throughout. Whether you’re well-versed in Puerto Rican culture or completely new to it, Oliveras welcomes readers into a space that feels both familiar and new and exciting. Diego’s machismo can be unappealing, but Oliveras does it with a wink, undercutting his attempts to uphold a certain version of masculinity. In its efforts to balance heavier storylines of abuse and addiction with the more lyrical love story, Their Perfect Melody can sometimes read a little uneven. Oliveras writes beautifully of classical guitar songs, and the novel feels like one: The individual notes might create dissonance at times, but the final product is a romantic, diverting melody.
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥
Grade: B+

Avon

The Other Miss Bridgerton
By Julia Quinn
Review: Julia Quinn continues her Bridgertons prequel series with a seafaring romp of the highest order. Quinn is a master of historical romance (just ask Shonda Rhimes), as The Other Miss Bridgerton demonstrates 18 years after The Duke and I first hit shelves. So many of us read romance to escape, whether to quiet our mind after the ordeal of a car accident (raises hand!) or to give us a burst of happiness at the end of the day. Whatever you need escaping from, The Other Miss Bridgerton should do the trick. The incorrigibly curious Poppy Bridgerton is exploring a smuggler’s cave on the Dorset coast when she runs across pirates who kidnap her and bring her aboard their ship. Captain Andrew James Rokesby, who is no mere pirate, but a transporter of government secrets, cannot lose any time on his mission, which leaves him no choice but to bring Poppy along for the journey. Their irritation with their circumstances quickly melts to begrudging attraction and eventually, the undeniable spark of love. Quinn’s effortless banter is sure to leave a smile on your face with each increasingly flirtatious exchange. Her characters are irresistible for their wit, intelligence, and bookish obsessions (in this case, geography, architecture, and Shakespeare). The kidnapping plot might ruffle some feathers, but Quinn does an expert job making it a case of utmost necessity, ensuring Andrew is the consummate gentleman merely caught up in the requirements of his job. Though the book is light on bedroom scenes, Quinn makes even the most chaste passages smolder, the chemistry and romantic tension crackling off the page with something as simple as assembling a puzzle. Poppy is a headstrong, adventurous delight; her joy at seeing things like the stars in the night sky and the streets of a foreign country are truly infectious. It’s easy to see why Andrew can’t help but be wooed by her natural curiosity and genuine interest in the things he prizes most. Andrew himself is a kindhearted man, a captain who treats his crew with the utmost decency and care, and a swoony hero with the mussed hair and deep tenderness romance readers crave. With The Other Miss Bridgerton, Quinn has delivered another read as delightful as the malasadas her characters share here — a warm, sugary, melt-in-your-mouth confection.
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: A

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Duke
By Janna MacGregor
Review: Janna MacGregor continues her sparkling, charming Cavensham Heiresses series with this tale of notorious rakehell Paul Barstowe, Duke of Southart, and Lady Daphne Hallworth. Paul has been a villainous figure in previous novels, playing a direct role in ruined reputations and domestic rifts for past protagonists. Here, however, he is reformed in the eyes of Lady Daphne, a young woman who’s loved him ever since he helped her rescue a baby magpie as a child. As Paul pledges to help Daphne recover her diary, which holds secrets that could destroy her family, the two cannot deny the overwhelming desire they hold for each other. For many, there is nothing so delightful as the reformation of a notorious rake, and MacGregor offers up a delicious take on the theme. Paul is the best kind of rogue: a man whose grief, self-loathing, and efforts to do right have led him to be misconstrued as a n’er’do’well, but it’s Daphne who really shines in the novel. She’s a self-possessed heroine who is determined to seize the life (and love) she wants, and her striking confidence in taking what she wants — from the land to build a home for unwed mothers on to her pleasure at Paul’s hands — is a Christmas treat for any romance lover. There are moments where the pace slows, but overall MacGregor has concocted a sweet holiday escape (complete with mistletoe, an envy-inducing Christmas present, and all the snowy landscapes and velvety gowns one could wish for). Her world is so lush that it’s easy to lose oneself in this heady iteration of London, rife with seductive gambling hells, leering newspaper editors, and steamy backroom assignations. MacGregor also sensitively tackles heavy subjects like grief and suicide, helping her characters find light and meaning from under the weight of unspeakable loss and unnecessary guilt. What begins as a Christmas confection is infused with the weightier touches of loss to make for a richly engaging romance with a heroine we should all resolve to be more like.
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: B+

 

Royal Tease
By Nana Malone
Review:
Nana Malone continues her Royals series with the first in a new Royals United duet, Royal Tease. Having thoroughly plumbed the adventures of King Sebastian of the Winston Isles and his brother, the long-lost Prince Lucas, in previous books, Malone turns now to the missing princess, Jessa. Jessa has spent her life on the run, subject to what she believes are the delusions of her paranoid father. At last, she’s found the stability she’s craving — until the infuriatingly attractive new guy at her office sets her on edge. What she doesn’t know is that this guy, Roone, is secretly a royal guard sent to protect her until she can be notified of her royal heritage. A close friend to the king, Roone also tries to guard his heart against Jessa, to no avail. Malone crafts a laugh-out-loud enemies-to-lovers tale that transitions in its final chapters from office romantic comedy to deadly-serious romantic suspense. While HEA is the essence of romance, Malone ends on a cliffhanger, preparing to wrap this story in the second book in this duology. Both Jessa and Roone are sardonic, witty characters whose inner monologues will tickle your funny bone (how can you resist Jessa’s sassy coffee mugs?!). The story is both a compelling mystery and a steamy rom-com about two stubborn individuals desperately trying to ignore their palpable chemistry. Malone writes with a lightheartedness and contemporary, off-the-cuff turns of phrase in her dialogue, making readers feel like they’ve fallen into a gossip session with a good friend who just happens to sport a tiara. Sometimes the inner-monologuing can feel a bit repetitive, which is especially frustrating given the novel’s abrupt cliffhanger ending, but the ride is so fun and sexy it hardly seems to matter.
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: B

 

Tikka Chance on Me
By Suleikha Snyder
Review: With her new novella Tikka Chance on Me, Suleikha Snyder proves that you don’t need a full-length tale to tell an emotionally involving, out-of-this-world sexy love story. Pinky Grover knows she should avoid bad-boy biker Trucker Carrigan at all costs, but every time he comes into her family’s Indian restaurant with his motorcycle gang, she can’t help but be drawn to him. And with the way he stares at her and whispers the word “soon,” the feeling might be mutual. In less than 100 pages, Snyder offers up an incendiary romance, so flaming-hot it might just burn you. If you’re at all the pearl-clutching type, this short story is not for you. Pinky and Trucker’s undeniable attraction, which quickly spins into something deeper, feels utterly believable despite being the kind of head-over-heels romance you only read about in stories. This is fueled by Snyder’s baseline of her character’s connection: a shared love of Marvel superheroes and their masked vulnerability and geekiness. Snyder weaves in references to Captain American, Hamilton, and more in a way that feels completely authentic — and it’s this that makes you buy into the romance in the novella’s scant number of pages more than anything. These small moments of mutual interest and obsession are the very things that spark relationships in real life, making the outsize circumstances keeping Pinky and Trucker apart feel grounded. One warning: Snyder’s descriptions of Pinky’s family’s food from, the titular chicken tikka masala to lamb vindaloo to samosas to mango lassi, will leave you very, very hungry. Though Snyder does an admirable job crafting an intoxicating romance in a spare number of pages, you can’t help but want more from this tale — which is perhaps not a criticism so much as a sign of a job well done.
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: B+

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