Romance

A STUDY IN SCARLET WOMEN by Sherry Thomas

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Charlotte Holmes is utterly unsuited to marriage. She thrives on intellectual puzzles, little to no conversation, and an unhealthy sweets consumption that frequently leads her perilously close to her Maximum Tolerable Chins; none of this would endear her to the typical Victorian husband. She fended off marriage proposals bravely until her 25th year, under the assumption that her father would honor his promise to pay for her education. When he reneges, she does the only logical thing: renders herself ineligible for marriage through a sexual liaison with an unprincipled and unhappily-married gentleman.

Alas, his domineering mother catches them in the act, and scandal ensues. Charlotte flees her irate parents, only to discover that it is far more difficult than she expected for a “fallen woman” to find work. Furthermore, when the unhappily-married gentleman’s mother winds up dead, Charlotte’s sister becomes implicated in a murder inquiry. With the help of the widowed Mrs. Watson (a middle-aged former actress) and her old friend (and love of her life) Lord Ingram, Charlotte sets out to do what she does best–observe, make conclusions, and solve puzzles that baffle even the most intrepid and clever police inspectors.

Of course no one would believe the deductions of fallen woman and society scandal Miss Charlotte Holmes. The mysterious, bedridden, (entirely fiction) Mr. Sherlock Holmes however….

Sherry Thomas breaks out of the romance genre with a thrilling, funny, well-plotted, and (yes) romantic mystery series with a strong cast of characters and an immersive historical world that will keep readers rapt and turning pages. I read them all, then immediately read them again. Can’t wait for another LADY SHERLOCK book!

A Study In Scarlet Women (The Lady Sherlock Series Book 1) - Kindle edition  by Thomas, Sherry. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA by TJ Klune

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Linus takes his job as a case worker investigating orphanages for magical youth very seriously. He does his work thoroughly, accurately, and impersonally. And it’s precisely his thorough, accurate, and impersonal track record that prompts Extremely Upper Management to offer him a temporary, top secret assignment: to spend a month evaluating an exclusive seaside orphanage for extraordinary magical youth (including, among others, the Antichrist). Although initially overwhelmed by the unusual assignment, Linus finds that the magical youth–and their exceptional caretaker, Arthur–are working their way into his heart and threatening his objectivity as a caseworker. And as his impersonal lens cracks, he must question the truths he’s been taught, the morality of his own work, and how far he is personally willing to go for love.

A well-deserved award-winner, THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA is a quirky, funny, sweet, thought-provoking social-commentary with equal parts humor and heart. Highly recommend for adults and older teens–anyone who likes stories that are a little weird and a little magical with a healthy dose of undermined social norms and queer romance.

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EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER by Linda Holmes

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Evvie Drake was leaving Tim. She was literally in the car, her suitcase packed in the trunk, when her phone rang. There had been an accident. Her husband was dead.

One year later, Evvie’s life does not resemble the freedom she imagined she’d find without Tim. Her family and friends think it’s grief, but really it’s something else. Guilt. Guilt for the lack of grief. Guilt that she ever wanted to get away from Tim, who was in everyone else’s eyes, completely and utterly perfect. Guilt for the remote possibility that the universe had known she wanted to escape and had taken the matter into its own hands.

But when she takes in a former all-star baseball pitcher as a lodger, Evvie gradually begins to enjoy life again. Because Dean is full of possibility–new friendship, new project, new distraction. What Evvie doesn’t count on is that in trying to fix Dean’s life, she may have to confront the darkness in her own past and the ghosts Tim left behind.

An engaging contemporary romance, EVVIE DRAKE is a fun read and great book club book for groups that enjoy “women’s fiction.”

THE CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK by Elizabeth Peters

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At 32, Amelia Peabody is undeniably a spinster–and she intends to stay that way. To escape the host of unwanted and opportunistic suitors that descended after her father’s death, she takes her sizeable inheritance and sets off on a journey to explore the world.

She never gets past Egypt.

When she stops to tour Amarna, she and her companion, Evelyn, learn that the archaeologist Evelyn loves–and his infuriating brother, Emerson–have been hit with a fever. In the course of nursing (the ungrateful) Emerson back to health, Amelia gets swept up in a thrilling mystery involving a (seemingly) animated mummy that will draw her closer to her one true love (Egypt) and the man that unfortunately seems to meet her at every turn.

One if my favorite, favorite book series ever, Amelia Peabody starts out as Victorian romantic suspense, through later books fall solidly in the mystery category. Intentionally over the top, and an inevitable page turner, this is a great, classic read for anyone who loves mystery with a dash of romance or romance with a dash of mystery.

THE DUCHESS WAR by Courtney Milan

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Minnie has worked hard to leave her past behind and carve out a new life for herself. It starts with her new identity: Miss Wilhelmina Pursling, an unfortunate orphan, soon to be engaged to a repulsive but respectable gentleman. But when a local military official accuses her of writing seditionist pamphlets urging workers to unionize, her carefully maintained fiction comes under too much scrutiny. Her only hope is to find and confront the true author of the pamphlets and convince him to either stop writing or confess. But when the author–the handsome, charismatic, kindhearted Duke of Clermont–announces that he plans to combat her attempts at blackmail with an attempt to win her love, Minnie realizes that she may have underestimated her opponent–and her own susceptibility to his charms.

The first of one of my favorite romance quartets (THE BROTHER’S SINISTER), this novel immerses readers in Victorian England and introduces us to a funny, witty, interesting group of friends that will continue to delight us for three more books (plus some novellas). A must-read for historical romance fans!

OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon

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Claire and Frank are on their honeymoon. Technically, it’s their second honeymoon, but the War came so close on the heels of their marriage, that now they are like strangers. Now that their services to England are complete, this trip to Scotland is a chance to get to know one another again, to rekindle their romance. But when Claire falls through a time portal in a henge, she winds up in the eighteenth century, swept up by a raucous clan and pursued across the moors by Frank’s sadistic ancestor, English officer Jonathan Randall. Though she initially earns her keep at Castle Leoch by sharing her skills as an army nurse, Claire must eventually marry a young Scot named Jamie in order to keep out of Randall’s clutches. And as her relationship with Jamie deepens, Claire begins to lose her resolve to find a way home.

OUTLANDER has everything I love in a novel: humor, romance, suspense, immersive world-building, and deep themes. The contrast between Claire’s “modern” 1940s background and Jamie’s life in the 1700s allows for thoughtful commentary on the shifting nature of love and war as people begin to distance themselves from one another–whether it is the polite distance of Claire and Frank’s marriage or the mechanized distance of bombers and automatic weaponry in the war. Everything in the past timeline, both good and bad, is close and visceral and as much as Claire rejects (for example) the sadism of Randall or the corporal punishment the clans inflict on women and children, the unreserved passion between herself and Jamie (and the closeness of families and clans) binds her to her new life much more fiercely than she initially anticipated.

This novel is difficult to put down, and a great book club book if all of your readers are ok with sex and violence. (As my above expostulations should suggest, it has a thematic purpose and isn’t there gratuitously.) OUTLANDER will appeal to historical romance readers as well as many historical fiction and suspense/thriller readers. The dash of sci-fi/fantasy of the time travel is negligible, so I wouldn’t necessarily plug it to SF/F readers.

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US by Charles Martin

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Hoping to get back home to his patients ahead of a snowstorm, Ben Payne charters a flight from Salt Lake to Denver and, on a whim, invites the bride-to-be that he met in the terminal, Ashley. She needs to get back home for her rehearsal dinner, and Ben can’t help think of Rachel and how special his own wedding was. They fly out with a chatty pilot and his little dog, only to learn mid-flight that the pilot never filed a flight plan, and the plane is only supposed to seat one passenger. Then, over the frozen mountain wilderness, the pilot has a heart attack. Although Ben and Ashley survive the crash, Ashley’s femur is broken, along with several of Ben’s ribs, and altitude sickness makes their predicament worse. With no one knowing where they are, Ben must use the few provisions they have to survive the snowstorm and drag Ashley down the mountain to safety. Throughout their weeks struggling in the wilderness, Ben composes letters to Rachel on his audio recorder, remembering their relationship and coming to terms with the horrible experience that brought it to an end–as well as the knowledge that, should they survive, his developing feelings for the soon-to-be-married Ashley must also end in heartache.

I really enjoyed this novel. The action of the survival-thriller plot neatly compliments the tragic love story told in flashback. Interestingly, though, it is the suspense of the love story–the desire to find out what happened to Rachel, who is implied at various points to be both dead and alive–that really kept me reading. I’m not sure I would enjoy the new film adaptation, which seems to focus solely on the survival plot. But I would recommend this novel to realistic fiction readers who like action-packed love stories. Although it is literary fiction, romance readers may also find this novel satisfying.

FRICTION by Sandra Brown

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The minute Judge Spencer starts asking about his past, Crawford knows he’s lost.  His in-laws will keep custody of Georgia, and his sweet little girl will only see him on weekends.  A split second later, a masked gunman enters the courtroom, kills the bailiff, and aims for the judge.  Crawford’s Texas Ranger instincts kick in.  He tackles Holly Spencer to the ground, shielding her bodily, and kicks out at the gunman, who flees the scene.  Crawford follows.  After a rooftop shootout, the man with the gun is killed, but no motive can be found.  And Crawford’s reckless pursuit has likely sealed the fate of his custody case.  But when Crawford  goes to Holly’s house to check in on her, things take an unexpected turn as their mutual attraction leads to one amorous encounter after another.  Their relationship gets more complicated as Crawford becomes a suspect in the shooting–and it turns out that Holly might not have been the target after all.

This fast-paced romantic suspense novel is marred only slightly by the stereotypical tall-dark-handsome male lead.  But his love for his daughter rounds out his character a bit, and the compelling female protagonist makes the relationship more engaging.  The sex-at-first-sight is a little ridiculous, but it is not atypical for the genre.  Overall, a fun read for romantic suspense fans!

LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell

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Georgie and her writing partner, Seth, are getting the break they’ve been dreaming of since college: a big time producer is considering picking up their show. Not the unbelievably successful sitcom they’ve been writing for the past 10 years–complete with obnoxious actors and even more obnoxious laugh track–but the show they’d been planning since they first started writing together in the ULA comedy magazine almost two decades ago. It’s a once in a lifetime chance, but there’s a catch. They only have one week to draft for new episodes before their pitch, and Georgie and her family have plane tickets to visit Neal’s mother in Omaha for Christmas. Georgie hopes that Neal will be willing to stay home for the holiday, but when he takes the girls to Omaha without her, Georgie is forced to consider the possibility that her marriage is falling apart–especially when he doesn’t answer any of her phone calls.

While staying at her mother’s house, Georgie calls Neal’s mother’s home phone from the old vintage telephone in her childhood bedroom, the one she used to talk with Neal when they were dating in college. But she is astonished to discover that whenever she uses the landline, the Neal who picks up is 22 year old Neal, 1998 Neal, the Neal that she never called after their fight 15 years ago–the last time Neal went to Omaha without her. As she comes to grips with the impossible reality that she has a magic telephone that communicates with the past, Georgie relives her past with Neal as she struggles to figure out a way to save their future.

This is the second realistic fiction love story from Rainbow Rowell that I have absolutely loved. This is not usually my genre, but Rowell has a way of inventing characters that are beautifully flawed, endearing, interesting, and in this case, quite humorous. And the relationships between her characters are incredibly accessible and raw. My husband was on a business trip when I read this book, and it made me ache for missing him. I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy realistic love stories and don’t mind a twinge of fantasy– i.e., magic phones.

ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell

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When the new girl with the weird clothes sits next to him on the bus, Park does his best to ignore her and hopes it is a one time thing.  If she wants to draw attention to herself by dressing oddly, that’s her business, but the last thing he needs is for Steve and the other kids at the back of the bus to start picking on him, too. He’s done a good job of keeping his head down so far.  When Eleanor gets on the bus for the first time, she knows the school year is going to suck.  Everyone makes it clear that they don’t want her to sit with them, so she takes an open seat next to an Asian kid and does her best not to bother him.  This is what she has come back to after her year of sleeping on a friend’s couch: a creepy stepfather who still hates her guts and a bus full of hateful high schoolers.

But as the year progresses, Eleanor and Park start to lower their barriers.  They begin to acknowledge one another, to read comics together, to exchange music.  And as their friendship grows into romance, they hesitantly allow one another to catch a glimpse into their deeper struggles, especially in their home lives.

It is hard to describe the brilliance of this book in a summary.  My mother (also a librarian) recommended it to me with no summary saying, “Just read it.  It’s wonderful.”  And it is.  It is one of those books where the words themselves are engaging.  The imagery is fresh and interesting.  Every word is deliberate.  Every character is nuanced and realistic.  The plot lines range from sappy and heartwarming to disgusting and horrifying.  Realistic fiction love stories are not usually my genre (I usually require some sort of thriller/sci-fi subplot to cut through the sap), but this book is incredibly well-written–and gets some bonus points for the very subtle Romeo and Juliet parallels (starting with the title).  I recommend it to teens and adults who like love stories and literary fiction.

If you liked Eleanor and Park, you might like Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler.