By Maureen Lee Lenker
August 30, 2018 at 03:13 PM EDT
Avon Books; Kensington; Forever

Late summer is a time for languid indulgence — lazy days at the pool or the beach before the first crisp touches of fall blow in and the days get shorter. There’s no better match for that than a good book — preferably a romance that offers the steaminess, humor, or adventure that will help capitalize on that need to escape one last time. From the humorous confection of a new Tessa Dare title to Kerrigan Byrne’s piratical yarn to Zoey Castile’s swoon-worthy tale of a stripper and an elementary school teacher, August romance titles have plenty of late summer heat to soak up before the realities of fall crash in.

Penguin

Sometime After Midnight
By L. Philips
Review: This delightful YA story flips the Cinderella fairy-tale into a gay romance with a contemporary twist that borrows from the tragic lives of musicians like Kurt Cobain. Nate is an aspiring guitarist who lives in the shadow of his famous father who committed suicide when he was just a kid. When he meets singer-songwriter Cameron at an indie concert one night, he thinks he’s found the perfect guy, until he discovers his Prince Charming is indeed wealthy, but also the son of the record producer that drove his father over the edge (at least that’s what the rumors say). When Cameron tracks down Nate using social media and a picture of his distinctive hand-decorated Converse, the two must decide whether they’re family history will outweigh the strong connection they feel as lovers – and as potential musical partners. Philips beautifully captures the sweeping sensation of first love the two experience, while sifting through their own complicated pasts and personal responsibilities. When Nate and Cameron are together making music, everything else just fades away, and Philips vividly makes that a reality on the page as well. She also expertly captures the impact of current celebrity culture, writing effectively of the onslaught of paparazzi and social media in a world determined to destroy personal privacy. Additionally, the novel sensitively addresses issues of suicide and mental health, both examining the toll fame takes on artists as well as the trauma such experiences leave on family members. Philips manages to perfectly calibrate the deeply serious and tragic nature of the past Nate and Cameron must face before they move forward, while also delivering an enchanting, sweet, modern fairy-tale that offers up an LGBTQ happily-ever-after (something we still see far too little of in pop culture).
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥
Grade: B+

Avon Books

The Governess Game
By Tessa Dare
Review: If you’re looking for a book that perfectly calibrates the wit, steaminess, and charm of an ideal historical romance, you can never go wrong with a Tessa Dare title. With The Governess Game, the second in her Girl Meets Duke series Dare adds yet another laugh-out-loud, heartwarming tale to her repertoire. Chase Reynaud is a notorious rake, determined to prove he’s incapable of love by taking a different woman to his bed each night – but his steadfast rule of no attachments is called into question when Alexandra Mountbatten accepts the post of governess to his two young wards and gives him a run for his money. Alexandra is the daughter of an American shipping captain and a Filipina woman who has made her living setting clocks for the wealthy in London, while chasing her interest in astronomy in the evenings. The two are both rousing, entertaining protagonists – Alexandra with her feisty resolve, deep love for the young girls Daisy and Rosamund, and her inevitable hopeless romanticism in spite of her dedication to logic and pragmatism. Chase is a rogue with a heart of gold, a man who has a great capacity for love despite believing he doesn’t deserve it. Dare’s greatest gift is her sense of humor and the way her tongue-in-cheek, ribald sensibilities leap off the page. A Tessa Dare book is guaranteed to have you chuckling in delight, marveling at her witty wordplay and her character’s wickedly naughty one-liners and double entendres. The Governess Game is no exception, filled with sparkling gems and extensive banter between the rakish Chase and Alexandra, who dishes out as much as she can take. Dare is also a whiz at her love scenes, and The Governess Game has plenty of steamy interludes, but this title is more enchanting and charming than it is toe-curling. Chase must learn to love his two charges before he can fully give himself to Alexandra, and Dare crafts such a warm, open-hearted narrative that it’s hard not to find yourself alternately getting misty-eyed and squealing in delight. The Governess Game is confectionary, romantic joy, a book destined to leave a smile on your face on nearly every page. If historical Regency romances are all the inevitable inheritors of the work of Jane Austen, Dare is undoubtedly the lady’s clearest successor when it comes to her wit.
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: A-

Kensington

Stripped
By Zoey Castile
Review: Stripped has been described as Magic Mike meets Bridesmaids and that’s an apt assessment of this steamy, engrossing tale of an elementary school teacher and the stripper who moves in downstairs. When Robyn Flores finds a sequined thong in her laundry, she realizes there’s been a mix-up – and is delighted to find she’s mistakenly received the clean clothes of her hot new neighbor, Zac Fallon. But things get more complicated when he turns up as one of the male strippers at her best friend’s bachelorette party. Much of the romance centers on the assumptions and expectations we place on others and ourselves – and the necessity of pushing through them to find happily-ever-afters in unexpected places. Castile wisely sends the readers on a journey parallel to Robyn’s – initially, Zac’s world and his fellow strippers feels a bit seedy, the language and frat antics of some of his friends and co-workers immediately off-putting. But they are Fallon’s family, the guys who always have his back, and Castile takes us so well into Fallon’s inner life, his heart and mind, that you learn to look beyond the “trashy” label Robyn sticks on his profession in the early pages.

Castile worked as a manager in New York nightlife, and it brings not only a vibrant realism to her scenarios, but more importantly, a frank depiction of Fallon and the others in the male revue that doesn’t ask for acceptance, but demands it. Fallon fears he’ll be rejected by Robyn and those closest to her because of his profession, and he vacillates widely between defiance and embarrassment because of it. Yet, some of the novel’s greatest joys come in the moments that chronicle his pride in his profession and how he excels at it. Even in the more open-hearted plains of romance fiction, the profession of stripper may draw titers or run the risk of being reduced to any number of sex worker with a heart of gold clichés. Castile ultimately throws that out the window, writing fiercely and unapologetically, while still providing plenty of eye candy for the female gaze.

Castile’s writing is vivid and naughty, sparkling with desire, both physical and the deepest yearnings of the heart. The novel itself is a bit of a striptease, the early portions all promises of sex and heat and attraction before stripping the characters bare, forcing them to examine what they truly want out of life – a serious matter handled with the tart delight of a fizzy rom-com sheen. Castile’s story pitches you headfirst from early craving to devouring its twists and turns to a happy ending so good you’ll be licking your fingers to enjoy every last metaphorical bite. There’s no other word to describe this book but delicious – it’s as sinful and pleasurable as a perfect piece of late summer pie.
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: A-

Forever

The Good Luck Charm
By Helena Hunting
Review: With The Good Luck Charm, Helena Hunting combines the sub-genre of sports, specifically hockey, romance with the second-chance romance trope to delightful aplomb. Ethan and Delilah were high school sweethearts before he dumped her to pursue his NHL dreams – now that he’s been drafted back to his hometown team, the two can’t stay away from each other. But Lilah begins to question whether it’s really her he loves or the good luck she seems to bring to his performance on the ice. Fans of either hockey romance or second-chance tales will undoubtedly fall for this tale of two former lovers who find their chemistry downright combustive when placed in close proximity to each other. Hunting advances much of their relationship through a physical connection and at times, it can feel like the emotional resonance is missing because of that. Though, Hunting knows how to craft a delicious take on two characters who love a good puck. If you didn’t think pick-up trucks were sexy, you will now. The revelation of long-held family secrets (on both sides) exposes raw wounds and the real reason behind their break-up. Hunting writes with a bittersweet blend of aching vulnerability and undeniable charm. For some passages, Ethan feels a bit irredeemable – smothering Lilah with no regard for her own life and needs. But Hunting does an admirable job of pulling him back from the edge and providing justification for the all-consuming obsession that comes with the terror of losing love a second time. Ultimately, The Good Luck Charm is about letting go of fear long enough to open your heart to love and a healthy relationship. Her approach to storytelling is at turns outrageously sexy, downright charming, and emotionally resonant, leaving readers with a romance that scores a goal with an assist from Hunting’s inventive external plotting that delves into parent-child relationships and the inevitable baggage we all carry.
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: B

Macmillan

The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo
By Kerrigan Byrne
Review: In her sixth Victorian Rebels novel, Kerrigan Byrne takes readers on a truly rip-roaring, swashbuckling adventure with swarthy pirates to spare. When a man known only as the fearsome Rook returns to claim Lorelai Weatherstoke twenty years after she raised him from the metaphorical dead, it sets off an adventure that challenges her innocence and the woman she once thought she was. Byrne’s writing comes to vivid life on the page, plopping you in the middle of piratical scheming with such verve you’ll swear you can feel the sea spray on your face. If you’re a sucker for swashbucklers, you’ll find the many buried treasures within well worth your time. There are passages of the novel that make the Rook, aka Ash, difficult to redeem, particularly as conversations of consent continue to rightfully dominate the cultural milieu. Ash believes himself a monster, his soul and heart long-since sacrificed to the dark deeds he’s had to commit to stay alive. As part of that, he is determined to take Lorelai (in all senses of the word) whether she likes it or not. He doesn’t have the heartlessness to go through with it, but passages that veer closely to non-consensual interactions and the mere fact that he even considers rape a viable option at any point do make his eventual redemption not entirely satisfying. His cruelty is only lessened by the even worse abuses of Lorelai’s truly villainous brother. Still, Byrne knows how to weave a gripping yarn and her tale of alpha male brought to heel by goodness and love is a tried-and-true trope that she executes with aplomb. It’s the mystery of Ash’s past, Lorelai’s gradual embrace of her own inner “wantonness,” and the overriding sense of piratical adventure that makes the book worthwhile. Ash is a hard man to love, but Byrne weaves in such undeniable thrills and a sweeping sense of all-consuming passion that you may just end up falling for the story against your better judgment.
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥
Grade: B

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