How’s your summer reading shaping up? If you’re looking for something new to read, AAR staffers have combed through the lists of new releases to find the books we think are the best bets for the coming weeks. As usual, we’ve got a fairly eclectic mix of genres – contemporary romances, women’s fiction, mysteries, historicals – and books by authors both tried and tested and new to us, so hopefully, there’s something for everyone! Have a look through our choices and let us know what you think in the comments – and don’t forget to tell us which books you’re most looking forward to reading in August.
It’s about time durian became a force for good in this world. – Caroline
I love Lau’s writing and storytelling style, and I will read anything she writes. She’s scared of relationships; he’s her fake boyfriend to appease her family. She’s an ex-software engineer; he’s a landscaper posing a doctor. What could possibly go wrong or so very right? – Keira
A delicious-sounding (literally) and funny premise highlights this new Lau novel. – Lisa
Jackie Lau certainly picks interesting titles and plots for her romances! After her recent pie and ice cream themed stories, I’m intrigued to see what she has in store for fans (or non-fans) of durian though I’m sure the result will be very entertaining. – Maria Rose
I’ve loved Andrew’s Hidden Legacy series and am super excited for this newest installment about Catalina, a magical Siren who can make just about anyone do anything she wants. Except Alessandro, whose resistance to her magic makes him one of the only people she truly trusts.- Alex A.
This is the first full-length book about Catalina in the Hidden Legacy series and I CANNOT WAIT. Ilona Andrews has become one of my favorite authors as I devoured her/their backlist this past year, and all signs point to this being another great entry for my DIK shelf. – Maggie
Kerrigan Byrne opens her brand-new series with the story of a woman who’s being blackmailed by someone from her scandelous past and a Duke who’s using their proto-marriage as revenge. It’s Byrne and she does dark and light mashed together beautifully. – Lisa
Kerrigan Byrne’s darkly sensual historical romances are always a pleasure to read, and this is the first in a new series. What more can I say? – Shannon
I am animal-obsessed Lady Penelope and she is me! I have beenwanting this book since we met Penelope in The Duchess Deal and I can’t wait to see what our animal lover has in store for her actual lover. – Haley
Tessa Dare always brings something fun to the table. I love Penelope and can’t wait to meet the man she loves – Lisa
This is the followup to Grossman’s Appetites and Vices. I love that Carina is taking a chance on American historicals and Jewish representation with Grossman’s books, so I’m looking forward to David and Amalia’s story. – Haley
Grossman has become one of my go-to new favvorite historical writers, so I’m thrilled to see what she does with Amalia and David’s romance. – Lisa
When a romance blurb reminds you of Lesie and Ben’s storied tangle from Parks and Recreation, you know you’re in for a treat! Lang writes great contemps, and I’m looking forward to this one! – Lisa
Ruby Lang starts off her new Uptown series with a delightful fake relationship romance between two city planners whose shared interests soon turn to each other. Sounds like a fun romantic comedy premise! – Maria Rose
A thief who cannot keep her hands to herself and a staid companion who cannot keep her eyes to herself–what a delicious premise. Cat Sebastian’s writing really works for me, and I cannot wait for this f/f novella. – Keira
I can’t tell you how hard I’m digging the prospect of this f/f historical, and Sebastian’s story sounds delightful. – Lisa
Imagine being a teenaged girl and being cursed with horrific visions and writing that appears on walls. Could it get any worse for Nell Martin? Of course it could! Because this is a YA suspense novel with a supernatural twist. Nell moves to a hotel built in 1878, and soon starts learning about a terrifying murder that took place there in 1907. What could her connection be to the murder of another girl?
This YA historical fantasy is set in a fictionalized version of nineteenth century Europe. Heroine Emmaline Watkins lives in a sleepy rural town called Shy in Avon-upon-Kynt. Unfortunately, who is going to see her fabulous dress designs in Shy? But then a fashion house allows country girls to enter in a design competition. Emmy has a chance to compete — and must face obstacles, backstabbing, sabotage, and corruption. But will the cost to her be too high?
Could this be Gaslight for the 21st century? Shortly after her husband dies in an accident, and after her son’s birthday, Tess Clarke wakes up in a hospital. She knows she has been attacked. She is sure her eight-year-old son is missing. And she is certain she knows who is responsible, but off course, no one will listen to her…
Following the devastating and traumatic events that took place at the end of Orientation, the relationship between long-time friends and business partners North McKinney and Shaw Aldritch has undergone a fundamental shift that neither of them – North, in particular – is willing to face. I’m completely hooked on this new series from Gregory Ashe, and this second book promises to be every bit as good as the first. Twisty mystery plus angsty romance – I’m SO here for it! – Caz
Talk about an overwhelming prompt! This month we are challenged to read a contemporary romance for the TBR Challenge, and that leaves readers with an embarrassment of riches as contemporaries have been in high supply for the past few years. I ended up choosing a sports romance which I had seen recommended on Twitter, and Caz went with an m/m contemporary that turned out to be a winner as well.
I saw Love on the Run mentioned at the #RomBkLove hashtag on Twitter and it piqued my interest. When I saw that I already had it in my TBR along with a couple of other books from Zuri Day, I immediately decided that it would be my pick for contemporary romance month at the TBR Challenge. I don’t read tons of sports romances, but if an author I like has written one, I’m definitely there for it. Such was the case here, and I enjoyed my glimpse into the life of a track star on the rise.
Fresh off an Olympic win, runner Shayna Washington finds herself at the center of increased attention. When superstar athletic manager Michael Morgan reaches out to her, Shayna responds and what starts as a business deal between a manager and an athlete quickly turns to more than just professional courtesy.
The first part of the story set-up was honestly the hardest for me. Michael is a player, to put it mildly. By player, I mean that he gets multiple calls from multiple women looking to hook up just about daily, it seems like. He even has more than one phone that these women are calling! If this were a Regency, he’d be the Duke of Slut. Knowing this, I have to admit that while I kind of liked the lead characters, I knew I would want to see a lot of growth from Michael before I could believe that he would be hero material.
I warmed up to Shayna a lot faster. She takes her running – and her career – seriously. In that sense, she seemed pretty mature for her stated age of 25. However, throughout the book we get to see Shayna with her friends and roommates and those interactions were both fun and felt like conversations actual people in their 20s would be having. I can see where very conservative readers may not find this book to their taste, but I enjoyed the lighthearted raunchiness of some of the banter here. The book has a solid emotional heart to it, but there’s also quite a bit of good-natured fun to the story.
In addition to the fun and romance, we also get to see glimpses into both lead characters’ families. Michael’s mother is a widow, but she and her sons are all close-knit and obviously share a lot of very happy memories. Shayna’s situation is a bit more difficult. Shayna mourns the loss of her strong grandmother, and it’s apparent that her relationship with her mother is more strained. Shayna’s mother was only 18 when she was born and seemed to view her more as a peer or as competition, and this doesn’t make for a smooth mother-daughter dynamic.
These issues carry over into Shayna’s adult life as her mother’s immature meddling with a violent, untrustworthy ex-boyfriend place Shayna in some difficult situations. As a reader, I was aghast at some of the mother’s actions and found the resolution of that storyline somewhat unsatisfying.
I greatly enjoyed the relationship development between Shayna and Michael even if Michael did seem to reform himself almost unbelievably quickly. They seem to be a well-matched pair and the chemistry between them was pretty hot. However, I found the resolutions of backstory plot threads to be a little rushed and abrupt as the book neared its end. Even so, this is a fun read and I was glad to find a book where the female lead is the athlete instead of her male hero.
Unlike the historicals prompt, where I always have lots of books to choose from, the contemporaries one usually sees me scrabbling around to find something to read because I like to choose my TBR Challenge reads from books I already own – and contemps aren’t really my thing so I don’t buy many. I did, however, find a handful on my Kindle and, having recently enjoyed Lily Morton’s Rule Breakerin audio, (seriously, it’s fantastic) I decided to read one of the author’s earlier books, The Summer of Us, which is a spin-off title from her Beggar’s Choice series about a world-famous rock band.
Matt Dalton has been friends with the members of Beggar’s Choice for years; the bassist, Bram, is like a brother to him, and even though Matt runs a highly successful and elite staffing agency he also works as Bram’s PA. He’s charming, funny, outgoing and the sort of guy who gets on with everybody. Everybody that is, except John Harrington, the band’s lawyer. Matt disliked John from their first meeting, and that opinion has never changed in spite of the fact that everyone else in the band likes him and regards him as ‘one of them’. But as far as Matt’s concerned, John is bossy, abrasive, arrogant… and it doesn’t help that he’s been very inconveniently attracted to him from the moment he first laid eyes on him.
John is rich and successful, but doesn’t have much of a life outside of his work. The face he presents to the world is cool and self-contained, but it’s a façade behind which lies a gentle dreamer with a soft heart and a longing – one even he hardly recognises – to make a real connection with someone he can share his life with. John knows Matt doesn’t like him but isn’t sure why… or why it bothers him so much. So it’s as much a surprise to him as to anyone when he finds himself offering to put Matt up at his villa in the South of France when Charlie, the band’s lead singer, tells John that Matt has agreed to oversee the renovations on a property he’s just purchased near the one John owns.
What starts out seeming as though it’s going to be an enemies-to-lovers story quickly morphs into something else when Matt arrives at the villa and immediately jumps head-first into an apology for making snap judgements and then suggests they start afresh:
“I didn’t really give you a chance, which was a shitty thing to do, so I’d like to give us a second chance to become friends. After all, we’re going to be spending a lot of time together and it would be a lot easier if it’s not in conditions that would have made Stalin uncomfortable.”
John is only too pleased to agree, and it doesn’t take long for both men to realise that they like each other a great deal, and to discover that, while on the surface they’re chalk and cheese, they actually have a lot more in common than they could ever have imagined. From this new start, comes a deep friendship, a sense of true kinship and, for John, the confusion that comes with the realisation that he’s strongly attracted to Matt despite never having been into guys before. Matt, who has been struggling with the fact that he’s only grown more attracted to John the more he’s got to know him, believes John is straight – hell, Bram told him that John was trying to get back with his ex-wife – and he isn’t prepared to be anyone’s experiment. He’s realised that in past relationships, he was always the one to make sacrifices and to give while the other person took and now he’s decided he’s never going to settle again. He wants someone who is going to put him – Matt – first, and John surely can’t be that guy. Can he?
I really enjoyed the way the central relationship developed, with the two men moving from antagonism to friendship and eventually to lovers. They’re three-dimensional characters with baggage that continues to inform their attitudes and relationships; John’s aristocratic parents never really gave a shit about him, so he’s grown up reluctant to form connections for fear he’s not good enough, while Matt’s religious parents threw him out at fifteen when he came out, and he’s still carrying a shedload of guilt about a past relationship that went very badly wrong. Ms. Morton’s wonderfully snarky (and wonderfully British) humour is very much in evidence, and although the appearances of the dreadful ex-boyfriend and equally dreadful ex-wife are somewhat clichéd, they nonetheless help to move things along a little by highlighting the contrasts between the men’s past and present relationships. John’s lack of angsting over and acceptance of his sexuality and his feelings for Matt feel right for his character; he says early on in the story that he’s never been one for strong emotions, and it’s obvious that his desire to get back with his ex-wife was motivated more by hurt pride than anything else, so the idea that it was finding the right person that made the difference made sense. I liked that he wasn’t freaked out or in denial about his attraction to Matt, or interested in labels –
“I don’t know whether I’ve just discovered that I’m gay so much or just that I’ve discovered you… You’re my person and I think that I was just waiting for you. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter to me. The only thing that matters is that you are mine and I am yours.”
Also important in the story is the setting, which is described so vividly that I was able to picture it – the villa in the hills above Cannes with the amazing view of the sea – and imagine the heady scents of the flowers and herbs; the perfect backdrop to allow this intense, warm and sensual romance to develop in that space out of time away from the constraints of everyday life. But there were a few things that kept this book from DIK status. The aforementioned evil exes were a bit OTT, and sometimes, the dialogue between Matt and John is a bit too-good-to-be-true and overly sappy. I also wasn’t wild about the continual use of “Matty” and “Johnny”, which felt a bit juvenile. I know they were meant to be pet names, but I still found it a bit irritating.
Otherwise, though, The Summer of Us is a funny, charming, sexy and wonderfully romantic read and I enjoyed it a lot in spite of its flaws.
Previously on the blog, AAR’s Kristen wrote about how many different corners of Romancelandia there are, and how there seems to be less and less overlap in the “must-reads” and canonical works of each corner. There’s Amazon best-seller Romancelandia, Twitter Romancelandia, Goodreads Romancelandia, and blog circles that overlap to varying degrees, just to name some of the biggest players. With all of these places, and a world in which reading time is unfortunately and totally unfairly finite, where do our reviewers look for buzz? How do reviewers pick the books that end up on our review database?
Dabney: I never pick anything to review anymore. *looks sad*. But, when I read a book I want the world to know about, I will write a review. It’s an assbackwards way to review but it allows me to share my book love. That said, back when I had the time to review, I picked books by authors that I’d read and loved first and foremost. Sometimes, though, I’d look at the descriptions on Amazon or Goodreads and, if a book was described as daring, smart, and sexy, I’d take it. No matter what the genre. That’s lead me to many a fabulous read.
Maria Rose: Definitely, favourite authors usually get dibs, though since some of them are quite prolific I’ll read the synopsis first before trying to take on too many. And besides, in order to find new authors to love you have to be willing to branch out from your tried and true faves. Ensuring I’m reading some diverse authors is now a priority for me especially if they contain some of my favorite romance tropes (like enemies to lovers). I’m less influenced by bestseller lists and hype and more by recommendations from other readers and reviewers whom I know have similar tastes. And then there are just some plots that sound too intriguing to pass up – case in point, Kingdom of Exiles by Maxym Martineau is a recent fantasy romance (described accurately as Fantastic Beasts meets Assassins Creed) that I absolutely loved. It’s a reminder that every now and then a genre switch up (since I mostly read contemporary romance) can be a great way to get out of a reading slump.
Shannon: I pay a lot of attention to websites like Goodreads and fantastic fiction. I start by looking for authors I’ve enjoyed in the past, and then branch out by genre. I’m nut usually hesitant to try new authors as long as the synopsis intrigues me. It’s not a terribly original way to find new books, but it’s what works.
Maggie: I’ve been doing this so long my process feels almost organic and outside of any conscious effort on my part but I’ll give it a go. My first step is to look over the lists Dabney sends and check for books in mystery/thriller market or YA and favorite authors. A lot of time, publishers will send me notes that say something like “You liked X, we think you’ll love Y.” So if Y is on NetGalley, I will check it out and if I’m interested, I’ll read it. I’ve been making more of an effort in 2019 to read Inspirational fiction so I will also check Inspy publishers on NetGalley and see if they are offering anything I’m interested in. That’s what I do for review books.
Reading for pleasure books I pick up everywhere. I read AAR in the morning and evening and get most of my recs there. When I’m shopping at Target (mine has a great YA section and I’m often sucked in by that.) When I’m at Costco, I work at the library and browse when I’m checking in books or sending them through the sorter or shelving. Goodreads, and also RL friends and coworkers. I still go to bookstores and browse and will often buy spur of the moment stuff there. So yeah, pretty much wherever I go if they have books, I’ll stop and look.
Evelyn: I didn’t read a romance novel until I was 50! I stumbled across Julia Quinn’s The Viscount Who Loved Me in a bookstore on vacation and was hooked. My daughters (then late teens) and I devoured the entire series. When we finished her books I searched for “more books like Julia Quinn” and came across the AAR 100 List. And I pretty much used that for recommendations until I got a long list of “must read” authors. Nowadays I get new recommendations from the authors I do read via social media. For instance, Ms Quinn wrote a post about Penny Reid… now we are devouring her books.
Caroline: I prioritize books by authors I’ve already enjoyed. For a new author to catch my eye, it usually takes a cool premise or a character/experience that sounds and feels fresh to me. And I almost always grab a sample of the author’s writing somewhere, like Amazon “Look Inside” or the author’s web site, to eliminate books where the prose is just unreadable. But recently, more of my reviews have come from backlist reads AAR didn’t review when they were new. I’m just too crabby at this stage in my life to struggle through books I’m not enjoying, and I can quit pleasure reads in a way I feel I can’t with books I took a free review copy for. I got into reviewing because I want to share books I love, whether they are new or old, and backlist A and B grades satisfy that. It’s been really fun to share, for instance, my recent Elizabeth Essex binge.
Caz: I use a combination of keeping an eye on favourite authors (maybe the odd author newsletter), recommendations from people with similar tastes on Goodreads, and from sites like ours. Once upon a time I probably took notice of Amazon reviews, but not now because so many of them are useless. (Giving 5 stars and typing “Great book!” is NOT helpful!) I still check out what people on my friends feed on GR are reading – there are a handful whose opinions will always make me sit up and take notice – and obviously I read all the reviews here at AAR. But my selection process has changed over the last couple of years. I don’t have a lot of time to look around at reviews on other sites, and very few of my favourite, previously must-read authors of historical romances are working well for me right now, so I’m relying more on GR, and what all my fellow AAR reviewers are reading and loving. Because of the serious dearth of good historical romances right now, I’m reading and reviewing fewer of them and am really cherry-picking when it comes to the titles in the genre I read for review. Mills & Boon/Harlequin is wiping the floor with the big name publishers at the moment in terms of HR, so I’m looking to those authors even more than before to provide me with a steady diet of decent historicals.
I’ve discovered a lot of new authors and books because of my love of audiobooks. I listen to a LOT of them (sometimes as many as four in a week), some of which I review for AudioGals, some of which I listen to for my own pleasure. Because my selection process when it comes to audio is different – I always look at the narrator’s name first and will follow those I like into other genres regardless (mostly) of the author – I’ve found a lot of new authors to try. Some of those are authors I hadn’t read in print (Amy Lane, Josh Lanyon, L.A. Witt for instance), but have started to read simply because I’ve enjoyed their work in audio format. The big draw for me right now is m/m romantic suspense, which has a number of incredibly talented authors putting out some amazing stories (Cordelia Kingsbridge, Gregory Ashe, L.J. Hayward and Amy Lane to name but a few), the last three of whose work I experienced first as audiobooks.
I am a planner, and my planning spreadsheet is scheduled out months ahead – there is even an entry for April 2020! I have my ear to the ground when it comes to choosing books: Twitter, blogs, and book chatter from trusted sources. I choose well-known and début authors, traditionally published and self-published writers, I choose books which have garnered much buzz as well as those by authors whose previous books got good reviews, and I choose books from publicist offerings and author emails. And I always make sure that my reading is diverse and inclusive. So I draw books from a wide variety of sources, but the ultimate choice of what makes it on my spreadsheet is: Am I interested in reading this particular story?
In terms of picking things to review, my system is pretty simple. If I’m taking a punt on a new author, I tend to stick to sub-genres and tropes I already know I love. If I’ve enjoyed the author before, then I may be open to wandering outside my comfort zone. Sometimes I tell Dabney, our publisher, just to surprise me because I do like to try new things, but I get indecisive about picking them!
As for reading for pleasure, I’m sure I’m similar to most folks. I have auto-buy authors, and then others I dip into from time to time, and then if something I’ve not heard of is getting buzz, I’ll check it out. I know my colleagues here at AAR who have similar tastes to mine, so if they love something, I probably will too, and I use that as a buying guide as well.
Today, I’m thrilled to be talking with Kiru Taye, originally from Nigeria, about her experiences as a reader, writer, and (!) publisher.
CR: Thank you so much for talking with me! First, can you tell me about how you first found the romance genre, and the romance reading scene in Nigeria?
KT: I discovered romance novels as a teenager in boarding school through the Pacesetter novels (a multi-genre series of novels by African writers) and of course the Harlequin/Silhouette/M&B novels. [Note from CR: Interested readers can learn more about the Pacesetter books here] I think the first one I read was borrowed from a friend and then I was hooked and started buying them with my pocket money.
These days Nigerian and African romance readers are savvier. They want stories and characters that reflect their experiences and lives. They want to read positive stories about Africa, and there are many romance writers who are telling those stories.
I set up Love Africa Press last year specifically to give all these wonderful writers an avenue to share their stories with the world. With digital platforms like Okadabooks, DigitalBack Books, Bambooks, etc, that focus on getting books to Africans, it is now easier for African romance readers to get access to the stories they love.
CR: You write in an incredibly wide range of subgenres, from contemporary billionaire books (the Essien books) to historicals (the Men of Valor series) to the magic and supernatural elements of the Sacred Amulet books. Do you have any favorites? What is inspiring you these days?
KT: What can I say. My muse is eclectic. LOL.
As someone who writes stories about Africans falling in love, people might consider what I do a niche. But my muse just says “Girl, I don’t want to be put in a box.” And that’s why I love writing romantic stories so much, because as long as there is a central love story and a happy ending, I can do whatever I like with the story. I can take the readers back in time or leap into the future. We can travel to another planet or another realm. I can make readers fall in love with a mythical creature or the sexy hunk next door. Any setting or situation I can conceive is workable.
So where my muse goes, I follow because it always turns out to be quite an adventure. These days she seems to have a thing for crime thriller/romantic suspense and I’m loving it. My latest release, His Captive Princess, is a political romantic suspense. I have two upcoming releases; one about an anti-hero (crime thriller/romantic suspense) and another about a well-known fairy-tale villain who gets to tell his side of the story (romantic suspense).
CR: What is it like being a romance author in Nigeria/in the Nigerian diaspora community? Is it socially controversial? Can you make a living or is it a side job?
KT: I’m not sure why being a romance writer would be any more socially controversial than being a horror writer or sci-fi writer. We all love the written word, that’s why we do the job.
I work full time as a writer and publisher. Writing is what pays my bills. Romance readers are some of the savviest, most passionate readers in the world. And I love them.
CR: Can you tell me a little more about Love Africa Press?
KT: Love Africa Press was born out of the need to provide a space for writers of African romantic fiction to tell their stories. For a few years, I received emails from African writers who wanted to break into the market but didn’t know how or had been rejected by publishers. I could understand their frustrations because I’d experienced the same things. For example, one publisher had been uncomfortable about billionaires in the Essien series – as if Africa couldn’t possibly have billionaires.
At Love Africa Press, every African experience is valid. Our stories showcase the diversity of the people as well as the rich cultural heritage in Africa.
Our first title came out in September 2018 and as of 1 July 2019 we’ve published twelve titles. Our readers are loving these stories. Our one year anniversary is coming up in August 2019 and we have some great events lined up. Subscribe to our newsletter for more information: https://www.loveafricapress.com/newsletter
KT: Writing can be a lonely business. When I started writing I wanted to connect with other romance writers who wrote stories about Africans. I contacted other African romance writers I could find online and we discussed forming a support organisation. We were mostly from West Africa so it made sense to become Romance Writers of West Africa (RWOWA). Also there was another organisation at the time, Romance writers Organisation of South Africa (ROSA)
Back in 2011, there were only a handful of us. We would critique each other’s works and help each other out in any way we could. Over time, RWOWA has grown steadily and our remit also now includes increasing the visibility of African romantic fiction worldwide. For example, in 2018 we were at the Africa Writes book festival in London, UK. We will be there again this year on Saturday July 7. We also have an annual writers award, the Ufere contest, which recognises the best in African romance writing. You can find out more on: https://www.rwowa.org/
CR: Can you recommend some books for romance readers who want to get to know Nigeria and West Africa?
KT: Where do I start?
Amaka Azie – Nigerian | She writes authentic Nigerian stories. Her latest novel Love at First Sound is a must read.
Empi Baryeh – Ghanaian | I love the sensuality and passion in her stories. Most Eligible Bachelor is one of my favourites.
Nana Prah – Ghanaian | She writes sweet and fun romance. His Defiant Princess is absolutely fabulous.
Unoma Nwankwor – Nigerian | She fuses faith and romance in an African settting. I love her Sons of Ishmael series.
I’m going to sneak in a couple of upcoming authors to watch:
Emem Bassey – Nigerian | She writes sexy, intriguing romance
Mukami Ngari – Kenyan | She fuses historical fantasy and romance brilliantly.
CR: Thank you so much for taking time out of what is clearly an incredibly busy and productive schedule to talk to me!
KT: Thank you so much, Caroline and the Tropical Romance Book Club, for the wonderful interview. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Kiru Taye’s web site is www.kirutaye.com. You can also find her on most social media platforms:
And now over to you, readers! Have you read any African romances that you’d like to recommend? What stories she mentions here have captured your interest? Do you read genre-hopping authors like Ms. Taye, and if so do you find you like everything they do or do you prefer to stick with one?
And as always – where in the world should the Tropical Romance Book Club go next?
A few months ago, I was chatting with our esteemed publisher here at AAR, Dabney, about how the books topping the best seller lists for romance at Amazon weren’t the one we were covering on the site nor were they the ones we saw being talked about on Twitter.
We bandied about some ideas as to why this was, never really coming to a conclusion, but I’ve been keeping an eye on the bestseller list ever since. As I write this, of the Top Ten best sellers in the general Romance category – I recognize the name of three authors. While I’m certainly not the arbiter of what is known in Romance, I do spend a lot of time in Romancelandia – or, at least, the version that exists on our site and on Twitter. What I’m wondering, more and more, is if that’s a representative view at all.
Now, before you cry foul, I know that Amazon’s algorithms are abused beyond reason, that Kindle Unlimited is a dumpster fire, and that best seller doesn’t equal quality. But when I combine this wondering with the fact that whenever Goodreads releases its Best Of polls, our staff scratches our head at at least a few of them… well, I’m starting to see patterns and I wanted to open it up to you brilliant AAR readers for your input.
Best seller lists are influential in part because readers frequently buy books they perceive as important because their peers deem it so. How many books are on the New York Times Bestseller list simply because of the loop of their being on the list so people buy them so they stay on the list? I’d bet many.
We’re a voracious bunch, us romance readers, and every statistic on the planet will tell you so. To my mind, that means the Best Seller lists warrant even more anthropological attention, since people turn to it for recommendations when they’re looking for new reads. This holds true for both Amazon and in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Like me, Dabney talks with romance readers all the time who have never heard of AAR (sad face), but can tell us the books they’ve tried because their library featured them, or because they were on the Best Sellers table at Barnes & Noble, etc. And, given Amazon’s dominance in book sales – numbers are hard to come by but most say the company sells at least 65% of all books sold – I feel sure that their lists are strong influencers on romance shoppers.
So, according to the Amazon list, what are people reading?
Suspense with romantic elements, paranormal (which I keep hearing on Twitter is dying, so that’s interesting), and Alpha heroes in tales dripping with so much angst that my adolescent self told them to calm down.
A brief scan of a few tags on Twitter tells me that the books getting focus over there are ones that have cinnamon roll heroes, diverse heroines, and covers with adirondack chairs.
I’m not saying one is wrong and one is right – I’m simply saying they’re pretty different and I think that’s interesting. Am I the only one? Thoughts?
I love a good romance story. In fact, there is almost no feeling that I love more than that heart-stretching, swelly feeling when the two lovers have left each other but might get back together but you’re not quite sure they actually will get back together and, oh my goodness, what if they don’t, but they have to, right, because it’s a romance, right?! – feeling.
Bite Me - Official Trailer - YouTube
In novel form or on screen, where there is a good romance story, there also am I.
Being a filmmaker myself, then, naturally, I wanted to make one. I knew that I wanted to do it differently, however, than most mainstream Hollywood movies, primarily because The Princess Diaries traumatized me. No, I’m not kidding.
In my defense, I was 14-years old at the time the film came out and, like many other teenage girls, I went to go see this movie with my also-14-year-old best friend in Colorado, where we grew up. Most of you probably remember this movie, but lest you need a refresher: at the outset of the story, a character, played by a young Anne Hathaway is supposed to be a mega-weirdo. To indicate the depths of her strangeness, the Hollywood powers-that-be made Anne wear glasses, gave her braces, and frizzy hair – which, in Hollywood, means mega-weirdo. Over the course of the movie, she meets and falls for a super-hot popular guy who doesn’t know that she exists until…eventually, Julie Andrews gives her a makeover and, at last, the hot dude finally sees through to her winning personality.
Now, aside from the obvious problems with that plot, the other problem I specifically had was that, if you give Anne Hathaway glasses and frizzy hair and even braces, she still looks like Anne Hathaway. I, meanwhile, was a genuinely strange child. To give you an idea of just how strange, a few years later when I was my high school’s valedictorian, I gave a valedictory that involved not only an actual lightsaber, but also a two-minute onstage battle between me and an invisible Darth Vader while Star Wars theme song played over the loudspeaker. I wish I was joking. I am not. At any rate, as a true ¬mega-weirdo teenager, sitting in that theater, watching Anne be adorable on screen, I remember this boulder-sized moment of devastation, thinking, “Oh my god. If she’s a weirdo…I am not even on the charts.”
I know it sounds silly because it was The Princess Diaries, but I was 14, and it was a deeply desolating moment in my life.
When I grew up and became a filmmaker, I became determined to make a movie for the true weirdos of the world – one where the girl got to keep her glasses on at the end.
The obvious vehicle for this story was a romantic comedy, a genre which, remember, I LOVE, but over which I had become sad as a viewer due to the unfortunate turn the genre has taken since the early 2000s into Katherine Heigl fluff-land.
I became obsessed with the quest of making a film that was not just a love song to weirdos, but a love story for our time. When, a few years later, on the set of Boardwalk Empire, I met a woman who explained to me that she was part of the global subculture of people who identify as vampires, the vehicle for this story clicked into place.
The result is my second feature film, Bite Me, a subversive romantic comedy about a real-life vampire and the IRS agent who audits her. The film is my attempt to update the rom-com – to bring the best parts of those giddy, heart-clinchingly joyful films of the 90s like Notting Hill and When Harry Met Sally, by grounding it in the cynicism and reality of the modern age. Really, though, Bite Me is about outsiders and weirdos. Sarah, the films heroine (whom I play), is a real-life vampire. At 29, with her blue hair and facial tattoo, she wears her self-made freak status like armor. But she’s not the only weirdo. 38-year-old James (played by Christian Coulson), our leading man, an Englishman and IRS agent has spent his entire life trying to make himself as bland and inoffensive as possible, terrified that people won’t like him if he reveals any part of his assiduously hidden personality. Then there’s Faith (Annie Golden), James’ Bible-thumping co-worker and roommate who, as a middle-aged woman, is about to get passed over for a promotion she’s worked years for; Chrissy (Naomi Grossman), Sarah’s best friend and the leader of their vampire “house,” who fancies herself a sort of alternative lifestyle revolutionary; Lily (Mahira Kakkar) the Muslim kindergarten teacher who faces rejection from her community for identifying as a vampire…every last person in the film is an outsider fighting to be seen. And seen they are.
When James is assigned to audit Sarah’s vampire “church,” an unlikely spark of attraction ignites between the two misfits, and they are forced to confront whether they can make it past their differences, be brave enough to let their weird lights shine, and have the courage necessary to commit the radical, terrifying act of falling in love.
And no one ever gives Sarah a makeover. Not even one single time.
Naomi McDougall Jones is the writer, star, and producer of the independent feature film Bite Me now in the middle of a 51-screening, 40-city, 3-month Joyful Vampire Tour of America that is bringing the film to audiences all over the country and changing the way that independent films are distributed. Find them in a city near you or watch the film online on iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, or Seed&Spark. Information on the tour, screenings, and the film at www.bitemethefilm.com.
Earlier this year, AAR staffers took a look ahead to the books being published throughout the year and selected those they were most looking forward to reading in 2019. For obvious reasons, there were more books on our list that were due out in the first half of the year, so now it’s time to look at the titles we’re eager to read that are coming out in the back half of 2019. Release dates are correct at time of writing, and purchase links are given where available. And as is the case with our monthly Coming Soon posts, this is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list, but is rather a selection made according to the tastes and preferences of our reviewers – so please do drop by to tell us what books you’re most looking forward to reading through the rest of 2019.
T. Greenwood’s writing is simply gorgeous. It pulls at my heartstrings every time I encounter it, so it should surprise absolutely no one that her upcoming novel entitled Keeping Lucy is one of my most anticipated books of the year. It’s the story of one woman’s fight to keep her young, disabled daughter by her side, despite some major opposition from the girl’s father. I’m guessing this will be a total tear-jerker, so I’ll be sure to have plenty of tissues on hand when I read this one. – Shannon
Ruby Lang starts her new Uptown series with a delightful sounding fake relationship romance! The protagonists are city planners – not your usual romance character careers – which makes this a unique entry in the contemporary romance field and I’m excited to read it. – Maria Rose
I am animal-obsessed Lady Penelope and she is me! I have been wanting this book since we met Penelope in The Duchess Dealand I can’t wait to see what our animal lover has in store for her actual lover. – Haley
This is the follow-up to Grossman’s Appetites and Vices. I love that Carina is taking a chance on American historicals and Jewish representation with Grossman’s books, so I’m looking forward to David and Amalia’s story. – Haley
This is the first full-length book about Catalina in the Hidden Legacy series and I CANNOT WAIT. Ilona Andrews has become one of my favorite authors as I devoured her/their backlist this past year, and all signs point to this being another great entry for my DIK shelf. – Alex
Choi’s Emergency Contact was one of my top ten reads of 2018. This one is about a pop star and a bodega clerk, and as far as I can tell is a standalone. I am very excited to see what Choi has in store for me this time! – Caroline
This is a YA romance with a royal twist. “What if America had a royal family?” Unless the author has a grasp of history, I see bad world building in my future — after the Revolution, was this really likely? But I also see myself having fun with this premise! – Anne
I’m really hoping this long awaited third book in the Arden St Ives Trilogy lives up to the promise of the first, and I look forward to Alexis Hall getting back to the standard of For Real or Waiting for the Flood and showing us how books in this genre should be written… no pressure! – BJ
It’s been a bit of a wait, but it’s almost over! After ripping my heart to shreds and stomping on it in the last book, I’m on tenterhooks as I await more of Ardy and Caspian – and hopefully, their hard-won HEA! – Caz
What could be better than a new stand alone from Nora Roberts? Under Currents looks to be the perfect blend of dark family secrets and heart-melting romance, exactly what I’ve come to expect from this author. She’s one of those writers who rarely writes a book I don’t like, so I’m pretty sure this one will be another winner. – Shannon
The final two books in the Winston Brothers series. Beard with Me gives us the background/childhood info for Claire and Beard Necessities is Claire and Billy’s book – FINALLY!! We’ve had all sorts of hints about these two for six books and I still have no idea why two people who obviously love each other can’t be together. – Evelyn
Can’t wait! Claire and Billy finally get their book! I’m thrilled to read it! – Lisa
As a longtime fan of Penny Reid, she can always be counted on to make me laugh, sometimes cry, and simply delight me with her way of telling stories. The last romance in the Winston Brothers series will be bittersweet but I’m sure she’ll have new story ideas to come. – Maria Rose
In all my years of romance reading, the only hero I recall who was described as overweight was Henry Tewskbury-Hampton of Carla Kelly’s delightful vintage Signet regency Miss Billings Treads the Boards.
Over twenty years.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of books.
Precisely one slightly saggy midsection. Which tightened up by the end of the story.
It’s always difficult to find a cause from looking at end products alone, and I’m sure this state of affairs reflects varying degrees of reader preference, author choice, and editor or publisher requirement, depending on the book. And I’m not saying your Navy SEALs or your shapeshifting werewolf warriors can’t be in peak physical condition, or even that you shouldn’t want your Regency ducal sundae topped with a six pack, however historically implausible that mixed metaphor is. Just because I happen to like bigger men (in fiction and in real life) doesn’t mean everybody has to write it (although I’d be delighted if somebody did, and I welcome recommendations in the comments).
I’m not demanding fat heroes, but I’m done – I’m beyond done – with fat losers.
The link between being a hero and being shaped like a Greek statue or post-serum Steve Rogers is so strong that the moment a male in the book is given a physical trait shy of perfection, I know the author is telling me to write him off. He may be the villain. He may be the pathetic and repugnant distraction Busybody Neighbor or Meddling Mom is pushing the main character to settle for. He may be a harmless ally or supportive you-go-girl buddy. What he can never be is the heroic object of sexual desire.
I originally intended to put quotes in this post in which authors used weight to identify their duds and deadbeats, but I realized quite quickly that it wasn’t going to work. There are just too damn many examples. It didn’t seem fair or productive to call out a few authors arbitrarily when the entire industry is taking the same cheap shot.
So as a thought exercise, I wrote some quotes of my own.
Such is the power of male weight in romance novels that I can invent descriptions of male characters and transform them from heroes to zeroes just by changing the words describing their bodies.
Imagine if you read:
Mrs. Gates’s son Robert was moving back into his mother’s house across the street. His sweaty t-shirt clung to his sculpted abs as he carried a television down the steps to the basement.
Your immediate take would likely be that Robert is going to be this novel’s hero. He’s a good guy, probably home because his mom is sick, or he’s between deployments. You probably can’t wait for the other protagonist to meet him.
But what if the author changed that description, just a tiny, tiny bit? Now, instead of the previous quote, you read:
Mrs. Gates’s son Robert was moving back into his mother’s house across the street. His sweaty t-shirt clung to his pudgy belly as he carried a television down the steps to the basement.
Nothing has changed about Robert except his stomach, but that’s enough to tell you he’s going to be a loser. The television, the mom’s basement – it means something totally different when the hero is fat. This Robert isn’t a caretaker or Marine on leave, he’s an unemployed man-child addicted to video games and internet trolling. That sweat is probably yellow, and it definitely stinks.
How about a historical? Our heroine finds herself face-to-face with Mr. Grant in a crowded ballroom. Suddenly,
A rotund body inserted itself between her and Mr. Grant. ‘‘I believe this is my dance,” Lord Kelston interjected.”
Oh, buzz off, Lord Kelston. You may have the title, but she’s all in for Mr. Grant.
A lean, powerful body inserted itself between her and Mr. Grant. “I believe this is my dance,” Lord Kelston interjected.
Thank goodness a sexy, possessive someone is here to save her from settling for the likes of Mr. Grant!
The officer thoughtfully tapped a pencil against his chiseled jaw. He leaned forward, causing his uniform to stretch across his broad shoulders. “I could make the ticket go away,” he acknowledged. “If it’s worth my while.”
Ooh. Sexy fantasy cop.
The officer thoughtfully tapped a pencil against his second chin. He leaned forward, causing his uniform to stretch across his wide stomach. “I could make the ticket go away,” he acknowledged. “If it’s worth my while.”
Ugh. Corrupt rapist cop.
I could do this all day. So could you.
Whether a romance reader is overweight or not, or male or not, “a fat man can never be a hero” is a toxic message for them to receive and internalize. Authors, using weight as shorthand characterization is cruel as well as lazy.
With summer in full swing (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least), how many of us are looking at new release lists to see which books we want to take on holiday? AAR has some ideas for you – from the latest offering from the doyenne of historical romance, Mary Balogh, to rom-coms, fantasy, romantic suspense and historical fiction set in the glamorous surroundings of 1950s Monaco, there’s something here for everyone, regardless of whether you’re going on vacation or having a stay-cation. Drop by and let us know what YOU’RE looking forward to reading over the coming weeks!
I love wrong-side-of-the-tracks heroes, so this sounds up my alley. – Caroline
I’m looking forward to book two of the Bareknuckle Bastards. Book one was good and left me wondering about the other two brothers. – Evelyn
Maclean knows what she’s doing when it comes to historicals, so this one’s an auto-buy for me! – Lisa
I’m super late to the Sarah MacLean party, but her Bareknuckle Bastards series has intrigued me since the first book came out last summer. The title of the second book in the series puts me in mind of a Beauty and the Beast retelling, so I’m eagerly anticipating picking it up. – Shannon
Nobody else does quiet but emotionally complex romance quite like Mary Balogh. I continue to enjoy her series focusing on a family dealing with the fallout of a bigamous marriage. This story features Abigail, youngest daughter of that marriage and I’m looking forward to reading her story. – Caz
No one does angsty love stories like Mary Balogh. The Westcott series continues with Abigail’s story. Abigail lost her social standing and confidence when her father was declared a bigamist. She’s been hiding in the shadows since, I’m looking forward to her finding happiness. –Evelyn
There’s nothing more joyful than a banterful Balogh on a hot summer day! – Lisa
Guillory rocked last year with two blockbuster contemporaries, The Wedding Date and The Proposal, so she’s already past the sophomore slump. Her first two were solid reads for me, so I’m looking forward to another strong performance. – Caroline
While Guillory’s first book didn’t work for me, her second got a lot of good reviews, so I’m looking forward to giving this one a try. – Keira
Guillory is a one-click buy for me, I’m super excited about this one. – Lisa
A novel set during Grace Kelly’s royal wedding? I am so looking forward to reading it. It’s a story of friendships spanning thirty years, second chances, the prestigious film festival of Cannes, the glitzy Côte d’Azur, and of course the perfect royal wedding in Monaco. – Keira
Historical fiction about Grace Kelly? Here for it, especially if the author brings up Kelly’s kinda secretly scandalous past – Lisa
What could be better than a historical novel set in 1950s Monaco against the backdrop of movie star Grace Kelly’s wedding? I honestly can’t think there’s much that could top it. – Shannon
Bar owner Huey appeared in the previous books in this series, and I’m eager to read his story. He’s spent the last ten years building his life around his sobriety and hasn’t been interested in finding love or companionship for himself; Felix is young, brought up his siblings single handed and struggles to make ends meet. What could strong, confident Huey possibly see in a guy like him? – Caz
Parrish is another go-to author for me, so this one has me thrilled! – Lisa
Olivia Dade is turning into a one-click buy for me and fake dating is a fave trope of mine! – Lisa
Olivia Dade’s recent release Teach Me, a romance between two history teachers, is a delightful introduction to her new series set in the fictional town of Marysburg. She’s following that up with an opposites attract /fake relationship romance between two librarians and I can’t wait to read it! – Maria Rose
This debut m/m fantasy romance set in New York in 1925 sounds really intriguing! – Caz
Début author Allie Therin has an enchanting (literally) look at New York circa 1925 in the first novel of her Magic in Manhattan LGBTQ fantasy romance series! A destructive amulet, a reclusive psychic and a do or die task – sounds exciting! – Maria Rose
Finally, I get to find out the fate of these two fiery sisters! Will they be able to overcome the repressive society that sent them to Mount Ruin? This is a YA dystopia duology that contained some great surprises.
There’s going to be a graphic novel about Raven as a teenager! Even better, she must cope with a tragic loss, missing memories, and “the darkness building inside her.” Not to mention unexpected powers. All that and a New Orleans setting with touches of the Gothic.
I became interested in this one early on because fans online were annoyed that it sounded too dark. Give me a hero whose perfect small town childhood concealed something insidious, and I’m ready to root for him.
The heroine Fie belongs to the Crow caste – undertakers and mercy killers. When Crown Prince Jasimir fakes his death, Fie gets involved. But not in the way you think, because Jasimir is gay. Throw in Tavin, the crown prince’s bisexual bodyguard, a cat named Barf, a deadly plague, and worldbuilding that rises above YA fantasies… I’m ready to visit.
I have to admit that I loved being prompted to read a historical this month. Historicals and gothics were my first loves, but my reading habits have evolved over time, and I don’t read as many as I used to. And as frequent readers here well know, Caz is something of a historical maven, so between the two of us, we had a lovely time reading this month.
The “historical” prompt in the TBR Challenge always used to be something of a busman’s holiday for yours truly, because in the past, I read historical romance almost exclusively. But the scarcity of really good HR on offer over the past couple of years has seen a bit of a change in my reading habits, and I’ve turned more and more often to other sub-genres to find what I crave from romance novels. Still, HR remains my first love and when looking through my Kindle for likely prospects, I decided on a relatively new release, Sophia Holloway’s The Devil You Know from 2017, which, while having a few flaws and treading a well-worn path, was nonetheless an enjoyable read from an author with a distinctive voice and a deft touch.
Kitty Elford, half-sister of Lord Bidford, is furious when her brother announces he’s basically sold her hand in marriage to a notorious rake because his – Bidford’s – betrothed refuses to set foot in the house until Kitty leaves it. Kitty is given no choice in the matter, and reasons that marriage to George Anstruther, Earl of Ledbury, is preferable to remaining under her obnoxious, penny-pinching brother’s roof, so when the prospective groom arrives to make his offer, Kitty makes no bones about accepting.
“I do not consider myself a romantic, my lord. I do not think that rakes reform, so I am unlikely to be shocked by your behaviour, however disappointing.”
Ledbury isn’t completely sure how he ended up conversing with Bidford and agreeing to offer for the man’s half-sister – having been a little foxed at the time – but he needs an heir and the lady’s generous dowry is certainly not something to be sneezed at. He has to marry someone, so why not the Honourable Catherine Elford? Being married won’t change anything much; he can continue to cut a swathe through the beds of the married ladies of the ton and “a sensible woman who would let him continue in his way of life without fuss” will be just the thing.
The bulk of the story deals with how these two complete strangers set about navigating the waters of their marriage, and it’s charming for the most part, watching Kitty and Ledbury forge the beginnings of a relationship. After a disastrous wedding night (which is simply referred to – this is a ‘closed door’ romance) – for which Ledbury is brought to see he should take most of the blame, seeing as his bride is (or was) a complete innocent – Ledbury determines to try to do better, determining that if he’s to have that ‘comfortable’ marriage he’s envisaged, he should perhaps try to be friends with his new wife. In order to do that, however, he’ll need to approach Kitty in a completely different manner to all the other women who have fallen under his spell and into his bed.
Kitty is indeed a sensible young woman, but is also well aware of how easy it would be to fall in love with for her handsome, charming husband, and of what a disaster it would be were she to let that happen. She could only ever be a temporary diversion for him before he returns to his philandering ways, and she’s determined not to let him break her heart. She’s quick-witted, poised, competent and possessed of considerable insight; she says what she thinks, often with comical results, but sometimes goes a little too far, especially when her instinct for self-protection kicks in, and steers her towards making the wrong assumptions.
The author does a terrific job of showing Kitty and Ledbury gradually falling for each other – even if, on his part, Ledbury has no idea that’s what’s going on. They talk, they take long rides together and they’re both refreshingly honest with each other; Ledbury knows he can’t erase his past and Kitty knows it would be unfair of her to hold it against him, but he understands how society works and is at pains to ensure that Kitty is able to hold her head up as she takes her place as his countess. Sometimes in stories like this one, the heroine can be too good to be true, but that’s not the case here, because while Ledbury can be self-centred and ill-tempered (and is very well aware of both those traits), Kitty has her faults, too. Sometimes, her witticisms are barbed and too waspish and, in the later part of the book especially, she can be somewhat ‘holier-than-thou’. But these faults just make both of them that bit more human and endearing.
The tone of the book is fairly light and breezy – dare I say that there’s an almost Heyeresque quality to it overall? The dialogue sparkles, the characters are engaging and the author imbues the novel with a strong sense of time and place, but I found myself knocking grade-points off for a late-book plot-point that felt overly contrived and really out of place. There’s also a scorned former mistress out to make trouble – she made quite a juicy villain, actually – and her machinations, together with Ledbury’s tendency to over-react at times would have been enough on their own to create the tension needed to keep moving the story forward.
The fact that there are no sex scenes in the book may be off-putting for some, but I honestly didn’t miss them, because Kitty and Ledbury have great chemistry and the heated moments they share (while fully clothed!) are nicely done and provide just the right sort of frisson to fit the story. In short, The Devil You Know was an entertaining read in the vein of the Traditional Regency and I’d certainly recommend it.
While forced marriage generally isn’t my thing, I do often like Jane Feather’s novels and I love that she has often chosen less commonly used settings for her tales. Her 1997 novel, The Silver Rose, takes place in England during the reign of Queen Anne. The spirit of the time, and the lingering shadows both of the English Civil War and Charles II’s sometimes raucous court echo through the story and give it a sense of time and place that made me feel as if I was sinking into another world.
We learn early on in the story that the once-Royalist Ravenspeare family and their neighbors, the Hawkesmoors, formerly sympathizers of Parliament, loathe one another with a murderous passion. Through a series of court intrigues, Queen Anne hits upon the idea of bringing harmony to their corner of England by commanding the marriage of Simon Hawkesmoor and Ariel Ravenspeare.
From the royal court, action shifts to the Ravenspeare home, where we learn that young Ariel lives with her three wild and depraved brothers. Because of her brothers’ infamy, her life is somewhat circumscribed but she learns that both her isolation and her relative freedom are about to come to an end with the arrival of Simon Hawkesmoor for their wedding.
Having been raised on tales of the awful Hawkesmoors, Ariel is unsurprisingly less than thrilled by the prospect of marriage into that family. Her battle-scarred groom doesn’t exactly make her swoon at first sight either. However, the stage is set for what will become a primarily entertaining romance.
Jane Feather takes what sounds like a familiar historical plot trope, especially for earlier historicals, and tinkers with the usual plot points just enough to give it a hint of a subversive twist. We get the familiar war hero groom and his significantly younger bride. However, this time around, the groom truly is a gentleman and a gentle man – and the bride is no clueless virgin.
And then there’s the other woman. Upon learning of his required marriage, Simon breaks things off with his childhood friend and sometimes mistress, Helene. In many stories, this would set the stage for Helene to morph into an evil slut. But here she never does. Instead, she’s confident, wise and likable. As a reader, I could see why Simon loved her. She’s more than just a mere foil for the heroine’s innocent beauty; she’s an interesting character in her own right and I do hope she gets an HEA of her own someday. My heart ached for her as I realized what she lost.
While male leads in forced marriage scenarios often sweep onto the stage as conquering heroes and all-around alphaholes, Simon is quite the opposite. He comes across wise, strong and steady. He doesn’t swagger flamboyantly because he frankly doesn’t need to. He achieves his aims without destroying others or showing off his dominance over the heroine. For the most part, I rather liked him.
Ariel is a little more difficult. She’s spent her entire life under the collective thumb of her debauched brothers, but that hasn’t killed her tendency toward being headstrong. Thankfully, it also hasn’t deadened her wits or business sense. She’s not wise in all the ways of the world, but she has taught herself to run a business.
However, a lifetime of exposure to only the worst of men hasn’t taught Ariel to appreciate a good and decent man. At one point, Simon’s former mistress expresses frustration over Ariel’s treatment of Simon and how Ariel doesn’t realize what a treasure she has. I had to appreciate the scene. In many books, this would have been a prelude to eeeevil antics by The Other Woman. However, in Feather’s hands, one cannot help but nod along with Helene because she really is right. In her naivete, Ariel simply cannot grasp her husband’s worth.
Understanding and responding to goodness is a process for Ariel throughout the story. Her character arc does show growth, but I did still sometimes find her and Simon’s love story a little hard to believe because the mutual distrust morphs into something positive and more permanent a little abruptly.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed The Silver Rose. The story has great atmosphere, and I loved seeing what the author did with once-tired old tropes. The relationship timing is a little off and some of the secondary characters just didn’t do it for me, but I still enjoyed reading this novel.