A look at what’s steaming up the shelves this month.
It’s not quite fall yet, but it is one of my favorite times of the year: back to school! And no, that’s not because my kids are out of the house during the day (well, not entirely because of that). It’s because I love, love, love buying school supplies. I also love the sense of anticipation September brings — it’s a new year of a different sort, a new slate, and just like in romance fiction, anything is possible…if we want it badly enough. And with that uplifting segue, here are the novels that inspire me this month.
I have a soft spot for books with culinary themes, so I couldn’t wait to devour (see what I did there?) Erin La Rosa’s For Butter or Worse (HQN). And it was delicious! (Okay, I’ll stop now.)
James Beard Award-winning L.A. chef Nina Lyon has busted her butt to get where she is in a male-dominated industry that refuses to take her seriously. Co-hosting the reality-TV series “The Next Cooking Champ!” is the kind of strategic move that could elevate her profile. Unfortunately, Nina is paired with someone she can’t stand: Hollywood restaurateur Leo O’Donnell. Instead of helping promote their respective brands, their adversarial relationship is a recipe for disaster.
Nina’s reputation for brutally honest feedback, coupled with Leo’s cutting jokes (usually at Nina’s expense), has done nothing to advance either of their careers. In fact, they’re both losing business. When things finally go too far and Nina quits on-air, a pretend romance offers them a last-ditch chance to woo back fans and revive their images. But something unexpected happens: Nina and Leo learn to open up and trust each other.
Nina is a likable protagonist who’s been worn down by the profession she loves and has lost her passion for the job as a result. Leo is a smart, anxiety-ridden guy whose responsibilities to the family business have taken over his life to the detriment of everything else. By putting her own special twist on the enemies-to-lovers and fake-relationship romance tropes, La Rosa has taken familiar ingredients and crafted a beautifully original recipe. (I know, I said I was done.)
Kerry Winfrey’s Just Another Love Song (Berkley) captures all the magic of small towns and the favorite songs that remind us of who we are — and who we used to be before the world got hold of us.
Sandy Macintosh and Hank Tillman were high school sweethearts, but their paths diverged when Hank left to pursue his dreams and Sandy’s big plans to go with him crumbled. Hank went on to become a country singer — and someone else’s husband — while Sandy stayed back in Baileyville, Ohio. Once an aspiring artist, she has put down literal roots in Baileyville, buying a greenhouse and developing a passion for gardening.
Now a divorced father of a little boy, Hank has returned to his hometown, and his presence turns Sandy’s successful-but-not-quite-what-she-planned life upside-down. When Hank volunteers to help her raise funds for Baileyville’s street fair, she’s forced to reevaluate the Hank she knew, the man he has become, and the dreams she put aside. Despite the feelings that she still has for Hank, Sandy isn’t ready to take a second chance on her first love. Yet.
The quaint setting and quirky secondary characters make this a charming and memorable romance. Hank is the quintessential small-town golden boy who made it big, only to discover that home really is where the heart is — and with the woman he never forgot. Seeing Baileyville through Hank’s world-weary eyes gives Sandy a new perspective on the life she’s built for herself and the possibility that even deferred dreams can come true.
Kristina Wright lives in Virginia with her husband, their two sons, a dog, a cat, and a parrot. She’s a regular contributor at BookBub and a lifelong fan of romance fiction. Find her on Twitter at @kristinawright or on Bookshop, where she features other book recommendations.