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Originally published June 17, 2012 at 5:00 AM | Page modified June 18, 2012 at 6:05 AM

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Summer reading: Sizzling romance and more

Romantic fiction for your beach tote: new novels by Seattle-area authors Lisa Cach, Julia Quinn and Elizabeth Boyle, with a crackerjack story by Southern author Mary Kay Andrews thrown in to spice up the mix.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Yes, we know it's a little early for the beach — in a region where "real" summer seldom starts before the Fourth of July. But dedicated readers don't like to wait until the last moment before stocking up on those indispensable accessories to the sun and surf: the newest "beach read" novels.

Because we like to follow Northwest authors, we've rounded up recent releases of romance fiction from local pens or laptops. For the kids, there are new books for children and teens. And for those who like some intellectual protein in their summer reading sandwich, there's a list of history, biography and memoir as well. Load up your tunes and your totes — it's beach time.

"Great-Aunt Sophia's Lessons for Bombshells" by Lisa Cach (Gallery Books, 305 pp., $15): Seattle author Lisa Cach has published in several genres — paranormal, chick lit, romantic erotica and young-adult novels — and her latest is a fanciful turn on the "heroine makeover" concept.

Dowdy, overweight, earnest Grace, a doctoral student in Women's Studies, is summoned by her retired B-movie siren of a great-aunt to spend a transformative summer as her companion in great-auntie's spectacular Pebble Beach mansion. It's improbable but fun, peppered with excerpts from Grace's own scholarly notes analyzing (often inaccurately) what's going on. At Great-Aunt Sophie's place, not one, but two highly eligible men are hanging about the premises. There's Andrew, a puritanical young doctor with an air of "benevolent omniscience." And there's Declan, who is described as "so sexually attractive that it was embarrassing to look at him." And if you can't figure out which one Grace ends up with, you are hereby ordered to relinquish your Romance Readers of America membership card.

"Spring Fever" by Mary Kay Andrews (St. Martin's Press, 402 pp., $25.99): A very Suth'n novel by this popular Georgia-based author (her hit last year was "Summer Rental") brings us to Passcoe, N.C., where feisty heroine Annajane is reluctantly witnessing the wedding of her ex-husband, Mason, to the beautiful but evil Celia. Except that the wedding is halted (pre-vows) by the sudden appendicitis attack suffered by Mason's little daughter, resulting in a chance for everybody to think things over, not to mention a whole lot of stale wedding cake and leftover Lobster Thermidor. This novel is full of intriguing plot turns by colorful characters with equally colorful names, like Mason's sister Pokey. Most of those characters are conniving, larcenous, libidinous and otherwise up to no good. And up to the very least good of all is the dreadful Celia, whose awfulness is so downright cinematic that you're rooting for this book to be made into a movie.

"A Night Like This" by Julia Quinn (Avon, 373 pp., $7.99): Harvard grad and prolific Northwest romance author Julia Quinn returns to the world of Regency England for this entertaining new book in her series about the adventurous and aristocratic Smith-Smythe family. The first 15 pages are particularly action-packed: a disastrous duel, an accidental maiming, death threats, a three-year overseas exile and a return to England for the young Earl of Winstead.

He arrives home just in time to experience even worse torture: the annual family musicale, in which several of his young female cousins are playing a Mozart quartet with excruciating awfulness. Things get better when the Earl meets the gorgeous and strong-minded governess Anne, who has a hidden past and death-threat secrets of her own.

Author Quinn, in turn, has written a blurb ("Wit, passion and adventure, Elizabeth Boyle has it all") for a Seattle colleague's new "Along Came a Duke" (Avon, 362 pp., $7.99). In this, Elizabeth Boyle's 19th historical novel, we find young Tabitha, whose father has died and left her at the mercy of a wicked aunt and uncle, who banish her to an attic and force her to scrub the floors and polish the silver. When a less wicked uncle dies, Tabitha is named his heiress — but only if she marries (within a month) the man he has stipulated: Reginald Barkworth, the handsome but impecunious heir to a marquisate.

The alert reader will realize that Mr. Barkworth hasn't a chance, because Tabitha has already been kissed by the devastating Duke of Preston (who came along, just as the title suggests, and stole Tabitha's heart). Readers of Regency romance will have no trouble guessing where all this is going — probably to the beach, along with the sunscreen and the sandals.

Melinda Bargreen:

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