J.R. Ward (The Black Dagger Brotherhood) and Christine Feehan (the Carpathian novels) are two queens of paranormal romance best known for their action-packed vampire series. Both have now broken the mold with exciting new books. Other outstanding recent romances include a hilarious LGBTQ royal romp and a modern take on Little Women.
Claimed, J.R. Ward (Gallery Books, $10).
Claimed is the first in Ward’s Lair of the Wolven series. Lydia Susi is a scientist working for the Wolf Study Project in upstate New York. The book opens with her discovering a gray wolf in the woods just as it collapses, apparently another victim of animal poisonings that the WSP staff has been finding in the area. Lydia has her suspicions that the poisonings are connected to the luxury resort going up across the valley.
She and the vet rush the wolf back to the clinic, where Lydia is informed that an applicant for a job opening has arrived. Daniel Joseph turns out to be an eyeful. He’s eventually hired as a handyman.
He and Lydia find themselves drawn to each other, especially as alarming incidents start happening. As they investigate the poisonings, they find themselves caught in a web of danger.
With Claimed, Ward takes you on a wild ride full of twists and turns. You are left with a cliff-hanger, cursing that you have to wait until the next book to find out what happens next. Members of the Brotherhood clan also make an appearance, with Xhex featured in her own mysterious story line that will intersect with that of Lydia and Daniel.
Murder at Sunrise Lake, Christine Feehan. (Berkley, $28).
In Christine Feehan’s first stand-alone novel in nearly 20 years, Stella Harrison has found a busy but peaceful life as owner of the Sunrise Lake Resort. She has a set of good friends she has made in the small resort town in the Sierra Nevada mountains, but none of them know about her troubled past as the daughter of a serial killer who was put away because of her special psychic powers.
Now, years later, Stella is having prescient nightmares again about another killer. She knows a fisherman is going to be targeted near the lake, but not exactly where.
Sam Rossi, her handyman, notices she’s upset. He is a man of few words and fewer emotions, but he is observant and capable, and there is a simmering attraction between them. Stella confides in him.
He turns out to be ex-military and basically has a special set of skills, and he promises to keep her safe.
As the two try to learn more about the killer, they find themselves in more and more danger. Stella is not sure whom she can trust — suspicions have even been raised about Sam. But she knows she must count on his help, and their growing love.
Playing the Palace, Paul Rudnick (Berkley, $16).
At the start of this wickedly funny and witty LGBTQ romance, Carter Ogden is still getting over a bad breakup with his cheating boyfriend. Depressed that he is nearing 30 and still single and underemployed — though he loves his job staging events — he goes to his favorite spot in New York. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral he can talk to God about what is deep in his heart, even though he is a Jewish boy from New Jersey.
His heart unburdened, he heads to the United Nations, where his company is setting up an event for the Royal Clean Water Initiative, headed by international dreamboat Prince Edgar of Britain.
Before the event, Carter shares a moment of connection with the openly gay crown prince before the prince’s staff arrive and whisk him away. Carter is surprised when days later he gets a phone call from Edgar’s aide, who says the prince is inviting him to dinner.
A picnic lunch follows, and then Carter invites Edgar to his sister’s wedding, where the royal makes a big stir at Temple Beth Israel in Piscataway. But the next day a hacked photo of them topless and sitting on a bed goes viral.
Carter is invited to England, where he has to deal with an intrusive press, scheming royals, and a delightfully formidable Queen Catherine.
Playing the Palace is a bit light on the actual romance — we don’t really get to understand why Edgar falls for Carter so fast — but it’s a breezy and snarky comedy. The book also touches on some deep subjects, including class separation, the burdens of royalty, and homophobia.
Can this relationship endure? We root for the two men to find their happily ever after.
Beth & Amy, Virginia Kantra (Berkley, $16).
In this sequel to Meg & Jo, about the older two March sisters, Virginia Kantra focuses on the two younger ones from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
Beth has reached adulthood and is a talented singer and songwriter. Amy is a designer of handbags, and her New York business, Baggage, is taking off.
Amy has been in love with Theodore James Laurence III, the rich boy next door, since she was a child. Trey, of course, had always been in love with Jo. But three years ago, when she ran into Trey in Paris after he and Jo had broken up, Amy and Trey shared one passionate night.
Now Jo is getting married to her love, chef and restaurateur Eric Bhaer, and everyone is coming back to North Carolina, where Amy is sure to run into Trey again.
Beth has been touring with country star Colt Henderson, for whom she wrote a couple hit songs. The two are now a couple, though the self-absorbed singer does not notice that Beth dislikes the spotlight. In fact, she has been throwing up. Colt suggests she go home for Jo’s wedding and then take time off and rest up.
Kantra’s books are a delight for readers who grew up with Little Women, as she reimagines modern romances for the sisters, whose love for each other abides.