Romance

THE LAST GOODNIGHT by Kat Martin

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When they pull Kade’s estranged wife’s car from the lake, old wounds reopen. It’s been eight years since she was murdered, and the cops have given up on solving the case. But no matter how painfully their marriage ended, Kade can’t live knowing her killer hasn’t been brought to justice. Though his last attempt at hiring a PI went nowhere, he hopes new evidence from the recovered vehicle could revive the cold case. But he didn’t expect the PI to be a woman–an attractive and charismatic woman who makes him feel things he swore he’d never give into again.

Eleanor was eager to take the job at Kade’s ranch and confident that she could find his wife’s killer. But she soon realizes she made a mistake. She’s still confident she can find the killer, but she’s not confident she can resist her employer. Her lust is reciprocated and the two soon fall into a torrid affair. But as a mysterious enemy begins a violent assault on the ranch and Eleanor’s resolve to stay emotionally detached falls victim to Kade’s charms, she doubts either one of them will get out of this unscathed…

This suspenseful, lust-at-first sight romance will satisfy many fans of the genre. The majority of the tension and conflict in the plot comes from the external dangers while the relationship faces only superficial and easily-overcome obstacles. For romantic suspense readers who like their characters to have to fight as hard for their love and personal growth as they do to survive, this novel will fall short. But for readers who like a thriller plot with a hearty dose of steamy sex scenes, this new series-starter is a solid pick.

ALL THE FEELS by Olivia Dade

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Alex is being punished. The showrunner for the wildly successful fantasy cable show Alex has acted in for the past nine years doesn’t even ask him whether the tabloid stories about a drunken bar fight are true (which, for the record, they aren’t…mostly). He just assigns Alex a babysitter. Lauren Clegg–or Nanny Clegg, as Alex prefers to call her–is joyless, unless she enjoys killing Alex’s joy, in which case she must be overflowing with well-disguised mirth. Because Nanny Clegg is in charge of making sure Alex doesn’t do anything fun or interesting (read: embarrassing to the production) for the next nine months until the final season of the show airs.

After leaving her job as an ER therapist, Lauren had been looking forward to a break. But when her mother asks her to do her cousin a favor, she can’t exactly say no–not without causing family drama–and so she ends up as the babysitter of a TV star who is by all accounts a wild, irresponsible party boy. Within a few days of knowing Alex, however, she begins to suspect that the tabloids–and her cousin–have gotten him all wrong. In fact, with the exception of some impulsive behavior stemming from his ADHD, Alex seems like a responsible and compassionate person. As their relationship develops from something purely professional into a real friendship, Lauren’s loyalties are tested. But it is Alex’s devotion to Lauren (surely just friendly devotion, right?) that ends up causing the next scandal, costing Lauren her job and Alex his career. With their professional relationship over and both of them steeped in guilt over the fallout, Alex and his one-time nanny will have to figure out how much sacrifice their friendship is worth–and whether friendship alone is really enough.

This hilarious, swoon-worthy, steamy romcom picks up the love story of two secondary characters in Dade’s bestseller, SPOILER ALERT, and if it’s possible, I think I liked this one even better(?!). Mostly because Alex, but also because the issues of self-worth and sacrifice were so powerful and accessible. Also, despite Alex’s occasionally juvenile sense of humor, the relationship was extremely mature: gradual to develop and always respectful, without the kind of lies and deceptions that often provide the tension in romance plots. I certainly enjoy lie/deception based suspense, but sometimes it’s nice to sink into a romance where the relationship is actually pretty healthy throughout and it’s the characters’ need for individual growth that creates the obstacles to their relationship’s success.

FYI, you do not need to have read SPOILER ALERT to read this one. You can read them in either order. If you have read SPOILER ALERT, you will notice that ALL THE FEELS has less fanfic but don’t worry: it still has plenty of amazing references to fanfic romance tropes (and, of course, pegging).

WELL MATCHED by Jen DeLuca

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After eighteen years as a single mom in a small town, April is ready for a change. In fact, she’s been planning it for the last decade: when her daughter leaves for college, she’ll sell the house and move into an apartment in the city. She’ll be farther from her younger sister, but closer to work. And it’s not like there’s anything else tying her to this town.

When her sister’s friend Mitch, a high school gym teacher and star of the annual summer Renaissance Faire, begs her to fake being his girlfriend at a family reunion, April sees a perfect opportunity to get some help with the repairs she’ll need to do to sell the house. She’s not sure anyone will believe she’s dating Mitch, what with him being a decade younger and the hottest man who has ever donned a kilt, but all he’s really asking her to do is show up and fake an attraction. Not that that will be difficult. But when she sees how Mitch’s family belittles him, April finds herself leaping to his defense and realizes that her attraction to Mitch might not be that shallow–or one-sided. After an unexpected night of passion, April is left wrestling with her emotions. Because in all her years of practical planning for the future, she never once considered the possibility of falling in love.

With fake dating drama and major communication fails, WELL MATCHED draws out the angst you hope for in a contemporary rom-com. Though kilts are promised (and delivered), the Ren Faire portion of the novel is comparatively small. More accurately, this story is about a divorced single mom finding the courage to let herself love again and a high school gym teacher accepting himself and his value to his community. Each has been devalued by people close to them (the hero by his extended family and the heroine by her ex) and it is through their fake relationship and real friendship that they regain their individual senses of self-worth. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one on the Ren Faire angle alone, I would absolutely put it in the hands of fans of steamy contemporary rom-coms.

UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR by TJ Klune

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Wallace Price is not a good person. He doesn’t try to be. Being a good person wouldn’t have helped him build his law firm from the ground up, and it certainly wouldn’t help him keep the firm profitable. Maybe he’d have more friends, and maybe his wife wouldn’t have divorced him, but relationships have never been as important to him as work, and that’s the way he likes it.

Until he dies.

Wallace is alarmed to find himself at his own funeral, shocked by the abysmal attendance and scathing eulogy, and terrified out of his intangible, ghostly skin when a Reaper whisks him away to a tea shop in the forest. There, a living man named Hugo identifies himself as the ferryman, the person responsible for helping Wallace transition from life to death–or more specifically, from death to whatever life awaits him after death–through the mysterious door in the ceiling of the tea shop attic. Wallace isn’t particularly eager to cross over into the unknown, but neither is he excited to continue existing in a haunted tea shop with Hugo’s annoying (dead) grandfather and exuberant (dead) service dog. Yet as Hugo helps Wallace process his grief over his own death, his attachment to the world–especially to Hugo–becomes stronger, and the thought of venturing through the door becomes less and less appealing. Because now that he’s dead, Wallace has finally begun to live…

Readers that are willing to trust Klune with their hearts will have them broken, healed, and filled to bursting through this tender exploration of the meaning of life (and death). Like Klune’s recent bestseller, THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA, UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR is full of emotional swells, humor, quirky characters, love, deep thoughts, and a touch of whimsy. Wallace’s personal growth drives the plot while a quiet, mature romance blossoms along the way. It is another stunning novel that will draw in both fantasy readers and readers who tend to prefer literary fiction (add it to your adult book club list!). This novel won’t capture all of the CERULEAN SEA fans, specifically those who are craving another charming and escapist magical island. Rather than immersing the protagonist in the child-centered emotions of wonder, joy, and tolerance to catalyze his change, UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR is about the transformative experience of grief. It is hopeful, hilarious, and uplifting, but also you will cry (at least, I did). Still, Klune earned every one of my tears through the sheer immersive beauty of his story, and even days after finishing it, I am still smiling. I highly recommend this one!

SPOILER ALERT by Olivia Dade

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Marcus’ character on TV’s most popular fantasy drama might be nuanced, intelligent, and heroic, but Marcus’ public persona is anything but. Perhaps it’s the vapid, dim-witted personality he projects or his seeming obsession with his own physical appearance that leads a troll to mention him in a fat-shaming tweet about a female fan’s cosplay. Marcus could ignore it–that would probably be the best PR move, the least risk of exposing his true personality and alienating his fanbase–but his conscience won’t let him. When complimenting the woman’s physical appearance doesn’t shut the troll up, he puts his money where his mouth is and asks her out to dinner.

But that turns out to be a mistake. Not because he doesn’t like April–quite the contrary. April is gorgeous, funny, and intelligent. So intelligent that she instantly sees through his “pretty-boy” facade. And then comes the final nail in his coffin: it turns out that April is the fellow fan-fic writer that Marcus has developed a friendship with over the past two years. Revealing his public persona is a fake would be one thing, but revealing that he writes fan-fic under an assumed name, and that under that fan-fic handle he’s criticized the scripts and the show-runners he works for–that would be career suicide, not to mention legally actionable. But now that they’ve finally met IRL, the chemistry they both felt on the Internet blossoms into something more than friendship, despite the fact that April still has no idea that Marcus is both personae. The longer he waits to tell April the truth, the deeper they fall in love with one another, and the less likely it seems that this relationship can possibly survive the revelation of Marcus’ secrets.

I cannot squeal enthusiastically enough to do this book justice! Scientist by day, fan-fic writer by night (and sometimes also by day), April is a killer heroine, while Marcus’ demigod persona on-screen only accentuates his believably human flaws IRL. This book is not-so-secretly about GoT fan-fic, and its exploration of that world is perfect. And then on top of the humor and the fan-fic community, there is some real, gutting content about fat-shaming, learning disabilities, and the far-reaching effects of parental microaggressions on the lives of their (even adult) children. Truly wonderful, and a must-read for fans of steamy contemporary romance, especially GoT/fan-fic fans/writers.

Amazon.com: Spoiler Alert: A Novel eBook: Dade, Olivia: Kindle Store

PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION by Emily Henry

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Poppy has worked hard to create her perfect life. She has a New York apartment, an influencer best friend who takes her along to the fanciest restaurants, and her dream job as a writer at an upscale travel magazine that actually pays her to take ritzy, exotic vacations. So why does she feel such a deep sense of dissatisfaction? Why, when her boss is assigning her a posh gig on Santorini in the Mediterranean, is she wistful for a rainy beach week in a dive bar in Florida?

Simple: Alex Nilsen. She hasn’t spoken to her former best friend and travel partner in two years, not since the disaster on their Croatia trip that made everything awkward between them. When a text of “hey” turns into a conversation that makes her realize how much she’s missed him–and how much of his life she’s missed–Poppy knows this might be her last chance to get Alex back in her life. She turns down the Santorini feature and joins Alex on a budget trip to his brother’s wedding in Palm Springs. But time and memories of Croatia have left a mark on the relationship, and Poppy isn’t sure they’ll be able to restore their friendship. And even if they do, will friendship alone be enough?

True Story: I didn’t plan to buy this book since contemporary rom-coms are hit or miss for me, but when my toddler accidentally bought it on my Kindle, I gave it a whirl. And what a happy accident that was! I laughed so hard through this book. The banter! Loved both the hero and heroine and just enjoyed every minute I spent with them. Fans of the genre, or anyone who enjoys witty dialogue and adults who aren’t afraid to be silly together, pick this one up! Highly recommend it.

A LADY’S FORMULA FOR LOVE by Elizabeth Everett

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Violet can’t risk getting involved in a scandal. Though she retained the title of viscountess after her husband died, her “unladylike” experimentation in chemistry has left her as an object of ridicule. If it were only her own social standing at stake, she wouldn’t worry. But the social club for lady scientists depends on her good name for its survival. So when an anonymous enemy starts threatening her with violence, Violet reluctantly agrees to having a bodyguard.

Arthur has followed a strict rule throughout his career of service to the Queen: never get emotionally involved with someone he is protecting. He only broke the rule once, and it cost a man his life. But the more time he spends with the brilliant and compassionate scientist, the more difficult it becomes to maintain his distance. The mutual attraction is undeniable, and after the first slip, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay away from Violet’s bed. But he makes himself clear: they are only indulging their physical desires. They can never become emotionally involved. For a scientist and an assassin, that shouldn’t be too difficult, right?

A fun start to a new series about eccentric female scientists in the Victorian era. Lust at first sight, a bodyguard/client relationship, and a heroine with self-esteem issues may turn off readers who dislike those tropes, but I LOVED the book–especially the mutual respect of the relationship, the suspense, and the fact that the woman was the brains of the operation. Highly recommend to fans of The Brother’s Sinister, HIS AT NIGHT, and other Victorian romances about women breaking out of their “station.”

A Lady's Formula for Love by Elizabeth Everett: 9780593200629 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

THE WISTERIA SOCIETY OF LADY SCOUNDRELS by India Holton

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When Cecilia learns that Lady Armitage has hired a pirate to assassinate her, she is pleased. Her late mother would be terribly proud that she finally merited an assassin. In fact, she is shaping up to be a fine pirate herself. She knows how to fly a house, how to pick a lock and a pocket, how to fight with knife, gun, or sword–in short, everything a lady needs to be a successful member of the Wisteria Society of Victorian pirates.

But as it turns out, her assassin isn’t as keen on killing her as Lady Armitage expected. In fact, Ned, as he insists she call him, warns Cecilia of a plot by her murderous father to kidnap her. Though Cecilia doesn’t trust Ned, when the rest of the Wisteria Society is shanghaied, she has no choice but to ally herself with him in order to effect a rescue. But while Cecilia may be well-versed in the art and science of piracy, she is in no way prepared for the feelings she begins to have toward Ned, and even less prepared for the feelings he seems to have toward her.

I’m pretty sure this book was written to delight me. I started laughing at the “Table of Significant Characters” and never stopped. But in addition to humor, it also checked all my boxes on what I want from a historical romance: a hero and heroine who I actually like, both independently and as a couple; a meaningful project not directly related to romance on which they can collaborate; and of course a healthy dose of swoon-worthy sexy-times. Still, as you can probably guess from the house-flying pirates, this won’t appeal to all historical romance readers. I would describe it as Sherry Thomas meets Gail Carriger. If that doesn’t help, read chapter one, and you will know if it’s for you. (And if this book is for you, we should definitely be friends. Because like I said, delighted…)

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels (Dangerous Damsels): Holton, India:  9780593200162: Amazon.com: Books

THE DUKE UNDONE by Joanna Lowell

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When Lucy stumbles upon an unconscious, drunken, and very naked man, she can’t believe her luck! Though she and the other female artists at the Royal Academy are circulating a petition to be allowed to participate in life drawing sessions, she has not yet had the opportunity to sketch a male nude. Putting modesty and Victorian propriety aside, she memorizes the features and anatomy of the gorgeous specimen–the front of him, anyway–and hurries off to paint. The resulting work is her masterpiece and the first artwork she’s been able to sell. Unfortunately, her unwitting model gets a glimpse of the picture, and even more unfortunately, he turns out to be a duke. Despite the realization that the duke is as attracted to her as she is to him, Lucy wants nothing more than to distance herself from this drunken and very possibly dangerous man and focus on her art career. But when a disingenuous politician arranges to evict her whole block from their homes, Lucy decides to blackmail the duke into helping her win over the Board of Works. It will be fine, as long as she avoids romantic entanglement. How hard can that be?

I love, love, loved this Victorian romance. Could not put it down. It has everything I look for in a steamy historical romance: an interesting and historically grounded conflict, a fierce heroine and principled if flawed hero, and so, so much sexual tension. Highly recommend to fans of Sherry Thomas and Courtney Milan!

“I loved Netflix’s BRIDGERTON, but will I like the books?”

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If you are anything like me and had already read Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, halfway through the first episode you had Questions…

Her debut season? A diamond of the first water? Daphne?? And why is Anthony being such a tool about her suitors? (And in general?) And wait–Daphne and Simon don’t like each other? And why is the queen involved in any of this? And who the heck is Marina Thompson? Oh her–but isn’t she…? So why…? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?

Of course if you are like me, you also believe that “different from the book” does not mean “worse than the book,” so you quit with the comparisons and settled in to enjoy the show on its own merits.

But if you are one of the many Bridgerton viewers who had not read the book, but who watched in the series three times in a row and are now going though Bridgerton withdrawal and wondering if you should get the books… this post is for you!

The answer to your question depends on why you liked the series. So I will give a breakdown of the big picture similarities and differences (NO SPOILERS beyond Episode 1 in case you haven’t finished) so that you have an idea of whether the books will be for you.

If you love Daphne, read the books! She is if anything more lovable. Daphne is in her second season in the Marriage Mart because too many of the “good” men view her as a friend. And though the show plays on the “enemies to lovers” trope, in the books she and Simon are BFFs from the moment they meet (when they bond over Daphne punching a suitor in the face). She has turned down several suitors she wasn’t keen on by the time she meets Simon, and Anthony (who is much more likable in the books) is wholly supportive of her wishes. If he weren’t, she’d punch him in the face…

If you love Simon, you should know that he is less likable in the books. Not that he’s awful, but some of the events that happen in the book were changed slightly but deliberately in the show to make Simon look better. BUT that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read the books. Each book has a different hero (and heroine) and honestly, Simon and Daphne aren’t my favorite couple. So if you find yourself disgusted with Simon in The Duke and I, you should still read The Viscount Who Loved Me because Anthony and Kate are awesome. (If you don’t like The Viscount Who Loved Me, you probably won’t like the rest either.)

If you love Penelope and Eloise you’ll have to wait for books 4 & 5 or skip ahead. And in the meantime, you might be annoyed at some moments of Eloise as Generic Girly Younger Sister. Don’t worry. She’ll come into her own.

If you love the whole Bridgerton family dynamic, read the books! The in-depth exploration of non-Daphne Bridgerton characters is saved for each of their specific books so don’t expect any subplots from Anthony, Benedict, Eloise, etc., but the camaraderie, affection, and FUN is there from book one. Speaking of which…

If you love the drama, be advised that there is less in the books. There are fewer subplots, and the overall tone is just lighter.

If you love the social commentary, you might like the books. The Netflix series draws on and deepens some themes that are present in the book. For example, the theme of a woman’s options and agency is present in The Duke and I, but Daphne is more confident from the start. Anthony gives Daphne her choice of suitors (acting more as a messenger to turn down proposals as she rejects them); Lady Bridgerton is head of household in all but name and Anthony defers to her; Lady Danbury is never shown as subordinate to anyone. Marina Thompson isn’t in any of the books, (though her absence plays a role in a later book). My point: though the chains of the patriarchy and societal expectations limit and direct the characters’ actions in the book, there is much less straining against the bonds.

But if you love the show specifically because of the alternate history and commentary on racism, give the books a miss. The reinvention of the racial make-up of the ton extrapolated from the historical Queen Charlotte’s possible African ancestry is exclusive to the show. In the books, you will not find the racial overtones that accompany Marina Thompson’s reception by her “elite” relatives or Simon’s view of his position in society. But you will find an occasional (unrepudiated) casual racism from the characters, like this moment in The Duke and I:

“Now look here,” Simon said hotly, “I’m not some sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered on the altar of your mother.”

“You have spent a lot of time in Africa, haven’t you?” Colin quipped.

Though likely historically accurate, such remarks will disappoint readers looking for meaningful commentary on racism either yesterday or today.