Stella Lane, the heroine of Helen Hoang’s “The Kiss Quotient,” is keenly aware of her mother’s disappointment in her personal life. Never mind Stella’s career success, her mother wants a grandchild. But having a baby, of course, requires sex — something with which Stella has little experience, and none pleasurable. (Like Hoang, Stella is on the autism spectrum; in Stella’s case, physical contact is a particular sensitivity.) Stella sees a single logical path: hire a professional “with a proven track record” to teach her about sex. The professional in question is Michael Phan, a handsome, affable male escort who prides himself on leaving his clients satisfied and never seeing them again. When Stella offers him an outrageous sum of money to take her on as a repeat client and broaden her instruction to relationships as a whole, he can’t refuse — and finds he doesn’t want to. There is much to savor in this book: Stella and Michael are beautiful, nuanced characters. Readers will delight in seeing themselves reflected in Stella and Michael and in their journey to understand themselves, each other — and love.
Summer is the time for weddings and wedding romance — and Jenny Holiday’s “It Takes Two” is a delicious one, filled with a wild cast of characters. Maid of honor Wendy Liu is feeling the heat from her best friend with bridezilla tendencies to throw a bachelorette party for the ages. Even worse (or better), Wendy finds herself in party-planning competition with Noah Denning, her best friend’s brother, the boy who broke her heart years ago. Competition isn’t new to Noah and Wendy; they’re notorious for going toe-to-toe, something readers will immediately see for what it is — a desire to be close to each other. Now, the stars have aligned, and Wendy and Noah are finally together, single and mature enough to admit they want more . . . maybe. This is romantic comedy at its best, complete with clever, sexy banter, a vibrant cast of characters, a wedding that is a character in itself (and getting bigger and bolder and more outrageous with each passing page), and a fabulous will-they/won’t-they/just-do-it-already back and forth that will have readers staying up late to see the romance through to its inevitable, wonderful end.
“Scoring the Player’s Baby” is the latest installment of Naima Simone’s WAGs series, which follows the wives and girlfriends of NFL players. Ronin Palamo is the wide receiver for the Washington Warriors football team and a perfect specimen of athletic masculinity with a devastating charisma to match. (Simone thanks Jason Momoa for inspiration in her author’s note). After his first love dies of cystic fibrosis, Ronin has sworn off relationships — until Kim Matlock changes everything. A hotelier on an impossible mission to prove her business acumen to her father, Kim has neither the time nor the inclination to have more than a one-night stand with Ronin. That fact becomes only more certain after she realizes he’s a football player. (Her philandering ex-husband was also in the NFL.) But this is a romance novel, after all, and fate reigns; two months after their night together, Kim discovers she’s pregnant. The two agree to platonic co-parenting, which would work perfectly if they weren’t so ridiculously attracted to each other. Sex isn’t everything, though, and Simone never falters in mining the complexity of two driven, wounded, wonderfully decent people who grow and heal and eventually love together.
Sarah MacLean is an author of historical romance. Her most recent novel is “Wicked and the Wallflower.”