First up is Darkfever, by Karen Marie Moning, the start of a new series from an author of incredibly popular Scottish time-travel romances. MacKayla Lane is a cheery Barbie doll of a girl, with a cool job as a bartender and parents who have a pool beside which she can tan her pretty hide. That happy life is abruptly shattered when Mac's sister is brutally murdered in Ireland after leaving a cryptic message on Mac's cell phone. Rather than allowing grief to swallow her as it is swallowing her parents, Mac decides to head for Ireland and find out what her sister had fallen into. But of course, that's when the real trouble starts, as Mac discovers she is heir to a family talent she's a sidhe-seer who can see beyond the glamour cast by the Seelie, or Fae. Which wouldn't be so bad, but she can also see the unsavory Unseelie, who are not nearly as pleasant. Everyone is after the same thing that got Mac's sister killed, and Mac will be tested to the ends of her wits. Darkfever is masterfully rendered, a dark and sexy fantasy featuring a Buffy of the Fae, with a sly sense of humor and maturity of handling that's a delight to read.

A bigger switch comes from New York Times best-selling author Connie Brockway, who offers her first contemporary with Hot Dish, a novel that turns out to be that rarest of breeds, a contemporary romance that isn't chick lit or divorce lit or even (much) of a romantic suspense, but a hot main dish for the savvy reader who knows pure romance can be a hearty meal in itself. Twenty years ago, Jenn Lind was forced to move with her parents from an Atlanta penthouse to Fawn Creek, Minnesota, after their glitzy lifestyle crashed. Absolutely determined to escape, Jenn threw her will into winning the local beauty pageant and enough money to get to college, but some jealous mothers thwarted her plan. What she doesn't know is that having artist Steve Jaax sculpt a model of her face in butter at that long-ago pageant proved to be a watershed moment. Now, Jenn is on the brink of stardom when Fawn Creek offers an invitation she can't refuse. Jenn and the very attractive and now famous Steve are invited back to Fawn Creek and a lot of bad guys come with them, all in search of that butter sculpture. Brockway's portrait of small-town Minnesota is fond and funny and humane. The romance is warm, but the pleasure is in following Jenn's journey to find herself and discover the truth: that fortune and failure are not always what they seem.

From Warner Forever comes a fine historical romance debut. The Raven Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt, is the sizzling tale of a widow in reduced circumstances and the earl who hires her as his secretary. Sparks fly in this sexy character study embroidered with vivid renderings of a landscape of 18th-century folk, from clumsy servant to polished courtesan and many in between. This is the story of two deeply wounded people finding their way to love in a regimented world they both believed in. A very rich, very hot dessert.

Forced to make her way in a hostile world is the clear-sighted heroine of Madeline Hunter's The Rules of Seduction. Alexia Welbourne, a penniless young woman, is coerced into taking a position as a companion to the family of her enemy, Hayden Rothwell. Which is just where Hayden, a sexy scoundrel who has secrets he cannot reveal, wants the strangely alluring female. Fortunately, Alexia is a very smart creature and knows just how to get what she wants. Or does she? Hunter offers a fine romance with an eye toward examining the challenges of women who must make their way in world where men are supposedly in control.

Barbara Samuel won a 2006 RITA award for her novel Lady Luck's Map of Vegas.

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