Sleeping with the Agent by Gennita Low

sleepingwiththeagent.jpg Wendy:  Single title romances that bloom into multi-book connected series carry a terrible burden.  They must simultaneously stand alone, so that new-to-the-series readers can start at any point without feeling uninvited to the party, and they must effectively bridge the older books with the new, all the while setting up the books to come.  Failing at the first leaves readers in the dark at best, or wondering if the plot and conflict were setup and resolved in another book—or books—at worst.  Failing at the second makes writing a series pointless.  With Sleeping With The Agent, Gennita Low steps into this quagmire with somewhat successful results.  While the forward motion of the plot effectively and compellingly stands alone, characters and back stories established in prior books pique interest of the “Must all the books be read to understand the story?” variety.

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My Favorite Witch by Annette Blair

myfavoritewitch.jpg HelenKay:  Witches.  Werewolves.  Vampires.  If you love paranormal romance, times are good.  If the creatures of the night leave you – ahem – cold, this might be a good time to think about the mystery/suspense section of your bookstore.  With all those choices, both light and dark, the pressure is on authors to craft a work that rises above everything that’s come before.  Being good isn’t good enough.  Or, as here in My Favorite Witch, being good is entertaining and fun but maybe not quite enough. 

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Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase

mrimpossible.jpgIt is, I understand, a simple to thing to write romance. After all, it’s just a formula, right? I am reminded that romance novels are the kind of easy that defines the word whenever I read a book by Loretta Chase. In fact, her novel, Mr. Impossible, is a case study in formulaic historic (Regency-era) romance.

Let us review the formula of this novel: a sexually repressed widow hires a disreputable rake (as opposed, I suppose, a reputable one) to help her find her kidnapped brother. Along the way, she discovers there’s more to the rake than people realize. Also that she’s one lusty lady. They find the brother, vanquish the bad guy, fall in love, and live happily ever after.

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Anyone But You – Jennifer Crusie

anyonebutyou.jpgNina Askew is forty, divorced, and, much to her surprise, the proud mother of a depressed beagle/basset hound named Fred. She wanted a perky puppy; Fred’s idea of perky is eating Oreos. Then one night, Fred brings home Alex Moore, the smart, funny, handsome doctor who lives below Nina. Alex is everything a woman could want — and ten years younger than Nina. He’s used to perky, silicone-enhanced bodies. Nina has discovered that gravity can be very cruel, indeed. Despite her long list of reasons why Alex is a Bad Idea, Nina discovers that she doesn’t want anyone but him.

Jennifer Crusie’s beloved Anyone But You was originally released in 1996. HQN has re-released this classic title in hardcover this month. I fell madly in love with the book when I first read it, and was pleased to know that my memory didn’t fail me. It is a rare romance that stands the test of time — it is even rarer for a category romance to rise above the sheer volume of titles released every month. That so many of Jennifer Crusie’s titles are remembered fondly is a testament to her skill as a writer and storyteller.

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Matchmaker, Matchmaker by Joanne Sundell

matchmakermatchmaker.jpgWendy:  At present, the romance section of bookstores teems with contemporaries so hot they might combust, paranormals that stretch the imagination to its furthest reaches, and Regencies that have finally arrived at a genetic bottleneck of population destroying proportions.  There was a time, not too long ago, when heroes were more likely to push cattle than fear sunlight and frontier heroines did what they could to further peaceful relations with Native Americans (ok, Cassie Edwards never stopped writing that book).  Lately, whispers and rumors have abounded that the long dead western would once again rise to the forefront.  There’s some difficulty in imagining tales of westward expansion exciting a romance community that is more demanding and sophisticated now than it was when westerns were last well-liked.  It would seem that if westerns are to make the predicted comeback they’ll need to do so on a fresh horse.

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A Total Waste of Makeup by Kim Gruenenfelder

HelenKay:  There are a never-ending series of lits out there – chick lit, hen lit and glam lit, just to name a few.  What separates one offering from another is a smart premise or an interesting voice.  If a reader is lucky, the author provides both.  In this light chick lit/glam lit hybrid, Gruenenfelder succeeds on voice.  She introduces readers to Charlie (Charlize) Edwards, a personal assistant to a Hollywood superstar.  With one ear attached to a cell phone at all times, Charlie struggles to deal with the wedding of her younger sister and a string of broken relationships – all in a flawed and humorous way that prevents A Total Waste Of Makeup from slipping from charming to silly. 

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