Romance

THE NO-SHOW by Beth O’Leary

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Valentine’s Day is perhaps the worst possible day to be stood up. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to Siobhan, Miranda, and Jane. They don’t know each other. In fact, they don’t have much in common at all. Siobhan is a life coach who is nursing a broken heart and was looking forward to a night of passion with the hot date she sees every time she happens to be in London. Miranda lives a dangerous life as a tree surgeon and was looking forward to a quiet lunch with her boyfriend. Quiet, charity shop volunteer Jane isn’t planning to date again ever, actually, but was really hoping her friend would show up to the engagement party as her fake date so her coworkers would stop trying to set her up. But Valentine’s Day comes and goes, leaving all three women cursing the name of the man who stood them up:

Joseph Carter.

It’s Miranda who first starts to suspect that there’s something going on with Carter. Whether it’s an unexplained receipt or his mother letting slip the name Siobhan–and the fact that he seems to evade some of her most innocent questions… Could the thoughtful man she’s been seeing all this time really be a cheater? Meanwhile, Siobhan and Jane are finding their resolves to never fall in love again weaken in the face of Joseph’s charms. But there is more going on than any of them can see, and before the next Valentine’s Day rolls around, secrets are going to show up in a big way.

This is a well-crafted, moving contemporary love story about three women and one man all struggling to be true to themselves and their feelings. A heads up: if you are turned off by stories about cheating, you should know first and foremost that there is more to this story than meets the eye (or shows up in the premise on the back cover) but also that the tension throughout the majority of the book surrounding the alleged cheating makes for a stressful read if that’s not your cup of tea. So if that’s you, skip this one and pick up any other of Beth O’Leary’s fabulous books. But I will say as someone who does not like books about cheating myself, the resolution of this story (the whole last third, really) was deeply satisfying, heartwarming, and beautiful. So I do recommend this book to fans of sweet contemporary romance and “women’s fiction” provided that stories about cheating are not a major trigger for you.

BUSINESS NOT AS USUAL by Sharon C. Cooper

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Dreamy doesn’t plan to work for her micromanaging boss forever. Soon, she’ll have completed her college degree (a little later than planned, but life happens), and then she’ll be on her way to launching her own business. Once she wins the lottery, of course. And after all the years she’s been playing, that’s got to happen soon.

But meeting multimillionaire venture capitalist Karter Redford throws all her plans into disarray–especially that plan where she wasn’t going to date anyone for a while, and certainly not another rich elite like the ex that shredded her heart and her self-confidence. Even though they both have a policy of not mixing dating with business, Dreamy and Karter keep winding up in one another’s paths, and the attraction is mutual and impossible to ignore. Could it be that finding one another was something more than coincidence? As they each wrestle with their own doubts and insecurities, they might just have to accept that a love like theirs isn’t blind luck. It might just be fate.

This romance is adorable, funny, and plenty steamy. The hero and heroine are well developed and easy to love. Because they are so easy to love, their romance itself comes fairly easily with only a handful of external obstacles, none of which come from lies or mistreatment by either of the partners. This is a novel for the romance reader who is not looking for angst and suspense but instead for a lighthearted plot that is gentle on the emotions and full of smiles.

TO MARRY AND TO MEDDLE by Martha Waters

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Julian’s proposition is perfectly logical. By gaining a respectable wife, he will be able to shake off some of the scandal that surrounds his operating a theater business. And by marrying, Emily will no longer be a pawn of her father, who plans to insist on her engagement to the loathsome man who holds his gambling debts. The marriage will be convenient to both of them.

But once she is wed, Emily finds that she is no longer content to be the perfect, respectable lady, caring for the household and the whims of the man who controls her life. She wants to be helpful to her husband in more ways than by entertaining the ladies of the ton. She wants to take an active role in her husband’s work. Julian is horrified–the entire point of the marriage was to pull his theater out of scandal, not embroil it in more! But the only thing more inconvenient to their marriage of convenience would be if Julian and Emily actually fell in love…

Waters is quickly becoming one of my favorite Regency Romance authors! She hits the tropes spot on for a fun, devourable read. Heroine and plot are both more subdued in this novel compared with the previous two of the series, but Violet and Diana and their much-aggrieved gentlemen make substantive appearances in the novel’s most hilarious scenes. (Diana and Jeremy’s wedding is quite spectacular.) I recommend this title to fans of the genre, especially the “Marriage of Convenience” trope.

A DUKE, THE SPY, AN ARTIST, AND A LIE by Vanessa Riley

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Felton knows immediately that the landscape of Port Royal his friend found in Covent Garden was painted by his estranged wife–and now he has some idea of where to search for her. He doesn’t blame Cecilia for leaving him, not after he accused her of infidelity with his father. But since realizing that he was actually in love with the beautiful woman he married to save his own life when a spy mission turned deadly, he has been desperate to find her.

But Cecilia has been back on the island of her birth searching for her own family–her true family. Marriage to Felton was nothing like the adventure he promised. With him gone for months at a time on missions and most of his family discriminating against her for the color of her skin, her artistically-minded father-in-law was her only defender and source of happiness. Her husbands accusations were merely final blow to a marriage that was already dying. But when she finds her free-born sister, who was sold into enslavement by Felton’s cousin, just in time for her to die in her arms, Cecilia realizes she may have to return to her estranged husband. Because a former spy might be the only person who can help her achieve her greatest desire: revenge.

All Regency romances stretch the historical truth, embellishing the “Marriage Mart” into a ton where Dukes are plentiful and “love matches” abound. Riley allows Black characters to into that world–not only through the romanticized history of marriage in the peerage but also in the historical realities for people of color in Regency England: the tens of thousands of free Black people as well as the free and enslaved people Black people in colonized Jamaica. Riley’s romances are more history-laden than most historical romances, and her writing style is more literary, so be prepared for a slower but richer read. I highly recommend all three of Riley’s Rogues and Remarkable Women books to fans of Regency Romance novels and to fans of the Netflix series “Bridgerton.”

THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS by Ali Hazelwood

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Olive wishes she had actually paused to look at the random guy in the hallway before smashing him against the wall and kissing him. Her intentions were good. Her best friend was walking by, and if she saw her hanging around the lab at night when she was supposedly on a date, she’d know Olive had lied about dating someone. Which means she wouldn’t be willing to date Olive’s ex. Which would be unfortunate because they were clearly meant for each other. But as unfortunate as that situation might have been, it couldn’t hold a candle to the complete and utter disaster of kissing Dr. Adam Carlsen, Known Ass.

Young biologist superstar Dr. Carlsen may be an expert in making Ph.D. candidates cry and occasionally drop out of the Stanford Biology department, but he is for some reason really nice about the kiss. And actually, really nice in general. Not only does he not file a sexual harassment lawsuit, but he actually agrees to keep fake-dating Olive for her friend’s benefit. But neither of them foresees the gossip storm that will overtake them–a Ph.D. student betraying her cohort by voluntarily dating the most hated faculty advisor at Stanford. And even worse than Olive betraying her friends, her heart may be about to betray her.

This book is so, so worth the hype! I read it in a day–and then I read it again! It is swoony and emotional with thoroughly developed characters you can’t help but fall in love with (hero/heroine and secondary), and the science lab world-building is intricate and thoroughly-integrated with the plot. Although it is a workplace romance, it is NOT supervisor-employee (different labs, different projects, different specialties), and the power disparity is immediately and thoroughly addressed. It hits all the right notes for its tropes without feeling like a cookie-cutter romance. This is one of my new favorites and I can’t recommend it highly enough!

THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEWOMAN WITCHES by India Holton

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There are no such things as witches. Charlotte Pettifer certainly isn’t one. And she certainly hasn’t been selected as the future leader of the secret League of Gentlewoman Witches because no such organization exists because witches don’t exist. And if they did exist, their future leader would certainly be discrete enough not to mount her broom in St. James’ Square in broad daylight and fly over the crowded streets just to escape a confrontation with a despicable and distressingly attractive Irish pirate.

But of course, Charlotte is a witch and the League’s rightful heir and therefore the only person with the legitimate right to steal the amulet that belonged to the foundress of the League (and, I suppose it must be mentioned, the creator of the spell that gave the pirates the ability to fly their battle houses over London). And when one such pirate steals the amulet for herself, Charlotte does not hesitate to commandeer a pirate’s house to give chase–both to retrieve her amulet and to get a second taste of the delightful freedom of flight. That she happens to commandeer the house of the Irish pirate is purely coincidental. That they appear to have formed an alliance is merely a distortion of the true reality that they are committed enemies who very maliciously kidnapped each other. That they occasionally find themselves locked in a broom closet together, their eyes locked, their bodies pressed close…well, everyone needs a bit of exercise…

Sometimes I skim books. Shameful, but true. But not this book–I couldn’t risk missing a single, hilarious word! From the absurdity of this series’ premise to the banter between the hero and heroine to the wealth of cleverly overturned literary allusions, I was laughing aloud the whole time. Add to that the deliciously steamy romance, thrilling adventure plot, and substantive cameos from the hero/heroine of the previous book, and you have a five star historical romance that you won’t be able to put down. I cannot recommend this series highly enough!

THE VALET’S SECRET by Josi S. Kilpack

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Rebecca Parker has always been a practical woman. She entered the service in an aristocratic household when she needed work, left the service when her daughter was born, and moved in with her father when her husband died. But now, with her daughter grown and in a comfortable position as a baronesses companion and her father’s abuses too severe to be borne, she is ready for a bit of freedom. Still, she never expected that freedom could mean sharing a passionate kiss with a stranger on the side of the road.

The connection between Rebecca and the mysterious valet is mutual and instantaneous. Unfortunately, Kenneth is not a valet–but rather a reluctant heir to an earldom who was seeking a bit of freedom by wandering the countryside in his valet’s clothing. Kenneth knows he should tell Rebecca the truth, but their connection is too strong and the moment passes. But his deception cannot last forever. And when the truth is revealed, will love be enough to lead two practical, duty-bound people to throw off the expectations of their classes and make their fairytale come true?

This sweet (clean) Regency romance is undeniably a Cinderella story (complete with a ball and glass slippers) yet the telling feels fresh and engaging–probably because of the loose connection to the fairytale early on and the twist of the future-earl’s deception. It is also always refreshing to see a mature couple in a Regency romance. Rather than a debutant and the rakish youth, Kilpack gives us a widow and widower in their 40s, both with grown children. As they reconsider the restrictive norms that keep them apart, they are also reconsidering their lives–how they have lived in the past and how they may be ready to break out of their society-dictated boxes and start anew. A fun, quick read for fans of clean historical romance.

MEET ME IN THE MARGINS by Melissa Ferguson

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The publishing house where Savannah works frowns on commercial fiction–especially romance. That’s why it’s essential that Savannah keep her side project (a romance novel she’s been working on for years) a secret. So when she accidentally leaves it out in her supply-closet-refuge, she is horrified to find notes in the margin from an unknown editor. The edits are hard to take, but she quickly realizes her Mystery Editor is on the right track, and if she is to have any hope of getting this published, she needs all the help she can get.

But as her relationship with the mystery editor deepens in the margins, a real-life friendship is blossoming between Savannah and the most unlikely person: her new boss, the CEO’s son William. Though she initially feels pressure to hide her love of romance novels from the person with power over her job. But as she and William connect on a deeper level, she begins sharing her honest opinions and is shocked to find that he agrees with her–and that her feelings are moving away from friendship into something decidedly romantic. Can Savannah really pursue a relationship with the CEO’s son? Or is her true soulmate the Mystery Man in the margins?

This sweet (clean) romance builds a gradual love story, based on shared values, shared interests, and a deep emotional connection. If you are not into workplace romances, this book will not be for you, since the questionable morality of the boss dating an employee (and then going out of his way to ensure that her work gets priority) is never addressed. But if that is not one of your turn-offs, and enjoy sweet, slow-burns, you will swoon for this leading man.

THE RUNAWAY DUCHESS by Joanna Lowell

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Lavinia had no choice but to marry the elderly, lecherous duke–not after the duke she was supposed to marry jilted her, exposed a family scandal, and had her father arrested. With her family disgraced and no skills to earn money except by marrying it, she grits her teeth and trudges down the aisle. But it’s what the wedding night holds that she truly dreads: not only being forced to share a bed with her loathsome husband but what that husband might do when he discovers he is not her first lover. So when a young botanist stops her on the train platform, mistaking her for a new colleague, she flees her honeymoon–and her past life.

Neal’s future wife is nothing like he expected. She more closely resembles a Society debutante than an intrepid explorer; he can hardly imagine her doing all the daring feats she describes in her memoirs. But he still fully intends to ask her to marry him after their stint collecting plants in Cornwall is complete. Surely she, too, will be looking for a like-minded, intellectual spouse. And if she agrees to be his bride, they can be married to fulfill his mother’s hopes for him before she succumbs to her cancer. As his professional relationship with his bold explorer deepens, however, Neal is in for more surprises, perhaps the biggest of which is that he is falling in love–and for reasons he never would have imagined.

Lowell made a bold choice to cast one of her previous book’s villains as her heroine–but it payed off! She matched her deeply flawed heroine with a seemingly perfect hero, only to subvert our expectations for both and somehow make us love them more. With this book, Lowell proves that the acclaim her debut earned was not a fluke. She is a new star in the historical romance genre.

LOVE AT FIRST SPITE by Anna E. Collins

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Dani does not regret playing paintball in her wedding dress on the day that should have been her wedding. She does regret running into Wyatt Montego, the most intimidating architect at the firm where she works, while drunk at the bar afterward and managing to get paint on his probably-expensive shirt. And of course that wouldn’t have happened if she had realized how self-centered, controlling her ex was before getting engaged to him, buying a house with him, and then suffering the humiliation of being cheated on with their realtor.

But once she sobers up, Dani realizes that the house might provide her with the perfect opportunity for revenge. Since her ex-fiance refused to let her buy the adjacent lot for studio space, she could buy it now and build some giant monstrosity on it to block his view. She could use all her skills as an interior designer to make it exactly the sort of house he’d hate. She just needs an architect to design it. Enter Wyatt Montego. Apparently not bearing any sort of grudge for the paint-on-the-shirt incident, Wyatt stuns Dani by volunteering to design the house for free. Of course they’ll have to keep their relationship professional since they work for the same firm. But that won’t be too difficult since Wyatt isn’t exactly the most personable man in the world (however gorgeous he might be) and there’s no way he could be interested in Dani.

Right?…

This steamy RomCom was tons of adorable fun. The Pride and Prejudice vibe was intentional (several reverences to Bridget Jones) and well-executed, and the Spite House was an original concept with the potential to inspire vengeful glee in anyone who can relate to Dani’s frustration with being constantly undermined by her ex. I highly recommend this novel to fans of the genre and the enemies-to-lovers and workplace romance tropes.