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A welcome second chance… Or a recipe for disaster?


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It might be impossible to put out these flames…Good thing this cowboy can handle the sparks.


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Dead To Me.


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Rip Roaring Regency Romp


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Healing his physical wounds is just the beginning…


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After suffering a horrific injury that threatens to end his career, Baden Oulett is about to learn that sometimes a fresh start is just what the doctor ordered.



Kick off a new year with great reads!


Barnes & Noble

Fresh Fiction Blog
Get to Know Your Favorite Authors

Miranda Owen | Favorite Reads of 2021


Steph's Outcast
Ruby Dixon

AVAILABLE

Kindle

Barnes & Noble

Icehome #14

July 2021
On Sale: July 10, 2021
270 pages
ISBN: 8533005326
EAN: 9798533005326
Kindle: B095XR1XLN
e-Book
Add to Wish List

Also by Ruby Dixon:
Barbarian Alien, February 2022
Add to review list
Ice Planet Barbarians, December 2021
Add to review list
Steph's Outcast, July 2021
Fire In Her Dreams, April 2021

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As a woman, I sometimes feel like I’m too critical of female protagonists. Tess Greene, the heroine in DISASTER GIRL by Michelle Dayton, is realistically flawed, but I admire her determination, intelligence, and her mix of toughness and plenty of heart. It’s something the hero in this story admires too, and why he ends up falling for her. Tess had a somewhat chaotic childhood, constantly doing damage control. As a result, that became kind of what she does for a career. This story involves revenge porn, and Tess collaborates with potential employee and tech geek she’s hopelessly attracted to, Max Hampshire, to bring down the sleezebag behind it all. I like characters who are multifaceted, and Tess qualifies for sure. She’s not the stereotypical cold-hearted businesswoman. She’s had some life experiences that have made her more guarded, but she cares about a lot of people and is fiercely loyal. Since the story is told strictly from Tess’s perspective, you naturally sympathize with her, and you relate to her insecurity about Max’s feelings for her. The chemistry between Tess and Max is phenomenal and the witty banter makes the steamy scenes even better when they eventually happen.

I have fallen down the rabbit hole of YA romance a million times over. I think I find them so appealing because they're usually stories about a period of growth and change in the main characters’ lives. In BETTER THAN THE MOVIES by Lynn Painter, quirky heroine Liz Buxbaum is very passionate when it comes to things like movies and music, but rigid when it comes to making her mind up about people. She tends to keep people in a certain box in her mind, and forever they will stay. Romcom movies have been a big influence on how she behaves and how she sees life. It may sound a little odd, but those films are a strong connection to her late mother. I found it amusing whenever Liz tries to engineer romantic “chance meetings” with the boy she’s majorly crushing on--most of which end badly. Strangely enough, it’s Wes Bennet, the boy she believes to be her lowkey nemesis, who invariably comes to her rescue. There is a PRIDE AND PREJUDICE vibe with this story. Whether you’re a fan of YA romance or not, I suggest making this book the YA romance you take a chance on. I’ve been immersing myself in oodles of YA romance, and lots of it has been good, but I think this gets it just right.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Cynthia Eden book I don’t like. DON’T PLAY WITH ODIN is part of Eden’s Trouble for Hire series. This story has a lot going for it: dark humor, delicious tension, and a fabulous romance. Odin is clueless about relationships and about how hot he is. Maisey Bright walks into Odin’s office and wants to hire him for his PI services because she suspects her neighbor of being a psycho. I don’t normally go for romantic suspense, but I will make an exception for Cynthia Eden. In DON’T PLAY WITH ODIN, Eden takes a classic Alfred Hitchcock vibe and joins it with superb eroticism. There are enough twists and turns in this story to make you question everything you thought you knew. The one constant is Odin. He has enough reasons to be overconfident, but he’s just not that guy. Even when he’s not sure if Maisey’s suspicions are well-founded, he believes in her and is the strong and sexy source of support she needs. There’s a wonderful balance of suspense, hard-boiled detective story, with a brief and highly amusing “pretend romance” thrown in.

Anna, the heroine in PAUSE by Kylie Scott, wakes up from a coma after being in a car accident. She finds that some time has passed, and her life has drastically changed. Her husband was grossly disloyal, and now she’s rebuilding her life. Enter hot tattoo artist Leif, who she finds she has a connection to because of the car accident. They become roommates, friends, and eventually much more. With stories like this, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. There’s usually a ridiculous misunderstanding or contrived plot point to make me roll my eyes, but not so in this case. Most of the story is about the two main characters figuring their life out and falling in love along the way. This is exactly the kind of character-driven romance I adore. I really liked Anna because she is strong and isn’t easily manipulated, even though she’s at a crossroads in life. Likewise, Leif isn’t a stereotype either. He’s a good-looking guy but he’s not aggressive or obnoxious. He woos Anna by being her friend, somebody who will listen to her, and who respects her boundaries. This is a re-read for me and one of my favorite Kylie Scott books.

When the description for DEATH IN CASTLE DARK by Veronica Bond said that it took place at a castle with a dinner theater troupe, I was instantly sold. It has all the usual cozy mystery trappings: fun situations with fab characters and a hint of romance. But, in addition to the lighter aspects, there are some genuinely spooky and spinetingling moments. Nora Blake is an actress—as well as amateur sleuth—and is excited about having free room and board at an actual castle while flexing her acting muscles. Initially everyone at the castle seems welcoming and she’s hopeful about her situation. However, once there’s a death on the premises, things take a decidedly dark and gothic turn. People who seemed friendly before, now seem slightly creepy, and Nora doesn’t know who to trust. I loved it! I highly recommend this to mystery fans, and I can’t wait for the next installment.

While HATE ME UNDER THE MISTLETOE by Kelly Jamieson isn’t exactly an “enemies-to-lovers” story in the traditional sense, main characters Amy and Ryder have a complicated past. Amy had a crush on Ryder when they were teens, but Ryder didn’t think exploring anything with Amy would have been appropriate or remotely feasible at the time. She was miffed to say the least. Now, years later, they find themselves snowed in at a cabin in the woods. Excellent. There are a few tense and prickly encounters, but maturity and necessity eventually win out. Once they start talking to each other and getting to know the people they are now, they can give in to their natural attraction. Amy doesn’t make any bonehead desperate moves to try and attract Ryder, and Ryder doesn’t try and rub it in that Amy used to be angry with him in the past and has now warmed to him. In other books, things often go in a different direction, and thankfully Kelly Jamieson avoids this in a believable way. HATE ME UNDER THE MISTLETOE is lots of festive fun and full of sexy Christmas-y goodness.

As a fan of E.J. Copperman’s paranormal cozy Haunted Guesthouse mystery series, I was eager to read JUDGEMENT AT SANTA MONICA. The second book in Copperman’s “Jersey Girl Legal Mystery” series features family lawyer Sandy Moss, who finds herself thrown into unusual cases by TV actor Patrick McNabb. The humor and quick banter in this book are reminiscent of the screwball comedies of the 1940s. In this story, Sandy has two cases she’s working on, and dealing with a few assassination attempts that may or may not be connected to both cases. The lighter moments are often delightfully farcical and are balanced by dangerous situations. Because Patrick is such a larger-than-life personality, Sandy and the reader aren’t sure when to take him seriously. One of the things I love about this author’s books are the realistic and likable female protagonists. All the elements work together beautifully in JUDGEMENT AT SANTA MONICA and, as is often the case with this author, I am eager for the next in the series.

I love the Meg Langslow mystery series by Donna Andrews. For me, they’re a guaranteed good read. You get pulled into the various mysteries, and chuckle at Meg’s somewhat eccentric yet lovable family. Meg is like the ringmaster keeping everything together. THE TWELVE JAYS OF CHRISTMAS is no exception. In this installment, an odious houseguest dies, wary visitors must watch out for divebombing birds and beware of wombats in the basement. I like how there are a few different mysteries for Meg and the readers to sort through and decide if they are in any way connected. Having multiple elements of mystery in one novel keeps things interesting. Adding the hassles and joys of Christmas just adds another layer. It makes the lighter moments more enjoyable, and it adds an interesting contrast to the terrifying ones. As with other books in this series, although there are plenty of laughs, interesting bird facts, and family member shenanigans, there are moments that really have you afraid for Meg.

One of my favorite romance tropes is “friends-to-lovers.” In NICK AND NOEL’S CHRISTMAS PLAYLIST by Codi Hall, Nick and Noel have been BFFs for years and have a family connection. When Nick gets out of the military, hoping to cement things with his longtime girlfriend (whom nobody else likes), things don’t work out the way he planned because she dumps him. Coincidentally around the same time, Noel’s current sweetie steps out on her in a public way, causing them to part ways. To save face when the exes show up at the same bar, they give the impression that they are a new couple by kissing. What could go wrong? Friendship is a huge theme in this book and it’s interesting to see the variety of friendships play out. The author also shows that Nick’s ex has another side to her, rather than just the nasty one she normally shows (but I have to admit that I was rooting for her to have some minor mischief happen to her). I’m also glad this story was told from both perspectives because Nick and Noel don’t always reveal how they truly feel about each other. This is such a cute story, with great characters, sexual tension galore, and swoon-worthy moments.

I don’t normally read sci-fi or fantasy novels, but Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet books are some of the best romances with a sci-fi/fantasy setting. I first discovered this series when the author was self-publishing them and I’m thrilled the fanbase has exploded on TikTok and inspired amazing fan artwork, too. Since the series is getting a new lease on life by being re-issued by Berkley, I hope that one day there will be maps of the ice planet just like there are for the Harry Potter and Hobbit worlds. In this series, a bunch of human women have been kidnapped by aliens and, thankfully, escaped their captors and made it safely to an ice planet inhabited by wonderous, terrifying creatures and blue warrior hotties. In recent books, newcomer and alien outcast, Juth, and his son, Pak, are on the fringes of society. The locals have been trying to make them feel welcome, but Juth is extremely cautious. Steph, a human woman, tries to connect with the father and son by leaving supplies for them to find. In STEPH’S OUTCAST, some upheaval caused by a Godzilla-type monster that comes out of the sea, leads to a “snowed in” romance trope plotline. Juth mistakenly thinks that Steph’s a little more into him than she really is, and his lovey-dovey behavior toward her is adorable. And, as with every book in this series, there is a balance of character-driven storytelling and red-hot romance.

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Miranda Owen is a Fresh Fiction senior reviewer. You can see more of her reviews and columns here.

 

 

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