As summer nears, this year bringing with it an especially welcome sense of renewal and optimism, a bumper crop of books offers sweet tastes of romance while we wait for the next season of Netflix’s Bridgerton.
Dial A for Aunties
By Jesse Q. Sutanto
Berkeley. 319 pp. $16.
Dial A for Aunties is a cross-cultural comedy by Jesse Q. Sutanto that begins with a terrible death but manages through madcap action to make you root for the accidental murderer.
Meddelin Chan is part of a close-knit family — at least on the female side. As a teenager, familial guilt and duty made her choose nearby UCLA for college. It even led her to join the family wedding business instead of joining with her college love in moving to New York after graduation.
Several years later, Meddelin is the photographer for the successful family wedding business, a career that she has grown to enjoy. Her meddlesome mother and aunties have been pushing for her to date more, and announce that they have set her up on a blind date. Even more distressing is that her mother went on the dating site posing as her and had been chatting with the guy online for several weeks. (The scene about her mother’s misinterpretation of the eggplant emoji is a gem.) But Meddelin hasn’t been on a date in ages, so she agrees to go.
Jake turns out to be a narcissistic jerk, but she goes through with the dinner, helped by several drinks. Afterward, a bit tipsy, she accepts Jake’s offer to drive her home. But during the ride, he aggressively makes a pass at her and refuses to let her out, calling her a tease. So she Tases him while he’s driving.
Meddelin comes to inside the car, which has crashed into a tree, and finds a bloody Jake slumped over the dashboard — dead. In a panic, she moves Jake’s body to the trunk and drives home. What ensues is 24 hours of craziness — horrifying yet hilarious — as she, her mother, and her aunties try to get rid of the body and deal with a huge billionaire wedding at a new island resort hotel, all while miscommunications abound among Meddelin and her relatives, who don’t speak English well. Oh and guess who owns the hotel? Her old college love. And the sparks are still there between them.
You Deserve Each Other
By Sarah Hogle
G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 367 pp. $16.
Naomi Westfield and Nicholas Rose are to be married in just three months. A dentist from a rich family, Nicholas seems like the perfect fiance. But Naomi has been growing more and more dissatisfied with her life. She feels as if she has been hiding her true self behind a bright smile, and that she and Nicholas have grown apart.
She is getting resentful that he doesn’t seem to go the extra mile with her and is taking her for granted. He doesn’t stand up to his domineering mother when she runs roughshod over Naomi’s opinions about the wedding. As Naomi stews over all the little hurts and misunderstandings, keeping tabs of gifts and favors not reciprocated, she decides that she doesn’t want to go through with the wedding.
If she backs out, she will be responsible for the nonrefundable bill. But if she can get Nicholas to break off the engagement, she’ll be the jilted fiancee and off the hook. She begins a campaign to sabotage their engagement.
Only she soon realizes that Nicholas has been two steps ahead of her at her own game. It becomes a hilarious battle of wills and wits to see who can annoy the other most. It’s the most alive and involved that Naomi has been in a while. She and Nicholas are finally being their true selves with each other. Naomi finds that she is having fun speaking her mind and standing up for herself. Her scenes confounding the horrible mother are inspired. As the couple discover new facets about each other, it tests their resolve to end their relationship.
You Deserve Each Other is funny, exasperating, and touching. At first petty and selfish, Naomi and Nicholas make satisfying personal growth in their relationship with each other that was enjoyable to see develop.
The Devil Comes Courting
By Courtney Milan
Independently published. 416 pp. $17.99.
The Devil Comes Courting is the third book in Courtney Milan’s Worth Saga, though the Worth connection is a minor character here. Instead, the book focuses on Captain Grayson Hunter and his efforts to build a worldwide telegraphic empire. His company is laying cable across the Pacific, and he is searching for someone who can create a method to transmit Chinese characters by telegraph. Based on a recommendation, he is in Fuzhou, China, to find the “Silver Fox.” But it turns out that person is not a man but Amelia Smith, a beautiful Chinese woman who was raised by English missionaries. Amelia is a young widow and is not looking forward to yet another arranged marriage where she will be treated like a maid. She has a brilliant mind, aside from her comical inability to remember names. Grayson offers her a different, brighter future, one in which she can earn her own way. She defies her overbearing mother and sets out with Grayson to Shanghai.
Grayson encourages Amelia’s independence and self-confidence with steadfast belief in her abilities. But their growing attraction is a complication that cannot distract Grayson from completing his telegraphic network in memory of his late brothers.
It is a joy to see Amelia blossom and take charge of her life. Grayson’s unwavering support, even from afar as he travels, helps her come to a realization about her restrictive upbringing. As a mixed-race man himself, he opens her eyes to the lack of respect with which her adoptive mother had been treating her and helps her unravel the mystery about her birth mother. Amelia in turn helps unlock Grayson’s heart, which has been frozen with grief.
The Kindred Spirits Supper Club
By Amy E. Reichert
Berkley. 350 pp. $16.
The Kindred Spirits Supper Club is a charming romance about the decidedly weird Sabrina Monroe. Awkward and suffering from an anxiety disorder, she has gone back home to Wisconsin after losing her job. But the women in her family share an even stranger condition — they can talk to the dead. Bullied in school for acting strange when her ability manifested itself, she has been trying to keep it a secret ever since.
So when she meets Ray Jasper, the new local restaurateur, at a water park she is visiting with her nieces and nephew, she is tongue-tied. She is also desperately trying to ignore the remarks made by Molly, who is ogling the swim-suited man. Luckily Ray can’t see or hear Molly since she is a ghost. Molly has been around for decades because the Monroe women have not been able to help her move on, as they have helped countless others of the recently deceased.
Ray is friendly and unabashedly interested in her. But Sabrina wants to keep her distance. She plans on eventually moving back to Washington. In the meantime, she is working a soul-crushing job under the woman who made her high school days miserable and still hates her.
When things come to a head between Sabrina and her nemesis and she is fired, Ray offers her a job helping him organize the grand gala at his restaurant. He hopes that as the two of them work together, their relationship will deepen.
However, Sabrina knows that if he ever finds out that she sees ghosts, he will think her crazy and will reject her, just as others have done.
Funny and sweet, Kindred Spirits shows how Sabrina grows more confident with the love Ray provides. You cheer as she stands up to the town’s mean girl. And while the mystery involving Molly can be seen a mile away, her story is still touching, and Sabrina and Ray work together to find the answers.
Love at First
By Kate Clayborn
Kensington Books. 322 pp. $16.
Sixteen years ago a young Will Sterling fell in love while visiting his uncle’s house for the first and only time with his mother. He heard a girl in the upstairs apartment’s balcony, and while he could not see her, her voice captivated him. But they had to leave before he could find her.
Years later, Will is a busy doctor who discovers that the uncle has left him his apartment. Planning to do short-term rentals with the apartment, Will comes to look it over and clean things out. In the predawn hours, he briefly encounters a woman out on her balcony above. He recognizes the voice instantly.
Nora Clarke loves her apartment. Left to her by her grandmother, it is in a building of close-knit, if quirky neighbors. They view Will and his plans to make changes to the old building with suspicion. Determined to thwart Will’s plans, Nora leads the neighbors’ effort to sabotage him using such tactics as loud poetry nights and blocked parking spots. Will in turn turns up the charm offensive to divide the bickering neighbors. While he doesn’t want to view Nora as the enemy, he also does not intend to let a long-ago infatuation influence his decisions.
The two battle each other as well as their growing attraction. As they become closer, both Nora and Will discover that family can be more than just blood kin and that second chances at first love should not be squandered.
How to Catch a Duke (Forever Publishing, $16), Grace Burrowes’ sixth installment in her outstanding Rogues to Riches series, finally focuses on Stephen Wentworth, the youngest Walden son. Stephen is brilliant and charming and tries not to let a lame leg keep him from ruthlessly protecting the interests of the Walden family, which started in terrible poverty and now controls a dukedom. And those interests now include the safety of Abigail Abbott, an inquiry agent who has helped the family in the past. She comes to Stephen in desperation, fearing for her life, and proposes he help her fake her death so that an angry lord will stop his dangerous efforts to get back incriminating letters that were sent to Abigail. Stephen, who has been smitten with her for a while, instead proposes that they pose as an engaged couple, with the full power and resources of the Walden family to keep her protected.
Of course, romance blooms and the fake relationship becomes real. The two are wonderfully matched, both strong and intelligent. The mystery about the letters becomes secondary to the personal battles they face about past traumas and their uncertain futures. As they face danger together, they find in each other someone to rely on and trust and who believes in them. Burrowes’ writing can be dense, as the conversations are steeped in historical idioms. While it may sometimes be slow going, the emotion comes through loud and clear.