The Romance Garden!

John Singer Sargent, In a Garden: Corfu, 1909

I keep waiting for the day, dear readers, when I can talk about all the pretty flowers outside, as well as here inside our Romance Garden, but that day is not yet today.  Fortunately, though, until we have reliable sunshine and warm weather, we have books.  And here, for your enjoyment, are some of our genre specialists’ favor books that they read this month, in the hopes that they will bring a little light, levity, and happiness to your day!

Bridget: Turn Me Loose by Anne Calhoun

Anne Calhoun is back with the sixth book in her Alpha Ops series, turning gender and genre expectations upside down, shaking them out, and giving readers another surprising, exciting, and genuinely enjoyable romance.

When she was in college, right on that fine line between childhood and adulthood, Riva Henneman got caught committing a crime by an undercover cop.  But rather than throw her to the wolves, Officer Ian Hawthorn gave Riva a chance to earn her way out by working undercover herself.  Ian knows all about second chances and trying again.  Once a Navy SEAL candidate, he’s trying to put together a meaningful career taking down the baddies closer to home.  He knew damn well that there could easily be sparks between him and Riva, but her age,  his issues, and the power imbalance between them ensured they never even got close during their time together.  But when they run into each other again, and find themselves once again undercover together to take down a notorious drug kingpin, things might just turn out differently….

I love the way Calhoun openly discusses power issues, responsibility, and vulnerability in her works without being at all heavy-handed or pedantic.  This applies not only to Riva’s relationship with Ian, but to her relationship with the at-risk kids she mentors in her restaurant.  It makes every relationship in the book feel honest–and ensures that the stakes go sky high when those relationships are threatened.  I also adored the way she and Ian grew together, and learned to embrace everything that made the other person what and who they were.  From a really tense, fraught opening, this book turned into a moving and wholly redemptive romance that made me even more each to return to this world again soon!

Kelley: Blame it on the Duke by Lenora Bell

Lenora Bell has become one of my new historical romance favorites and her latest title, Blame it on the Duke, is a great place to get started if you’ve never previously read her books. This third volume in the “Disgraceful Dukes” series brings together two characters briefly introduced in previous series entries, Nick Hatherly, the next- and if he has it his way, last- in a long line of “mad” dukes, and Alice Tombs, a woman determined not to marry until she has her opportunity for an adventure in India.

Not long into the story, we learn that Nick’s father lost a game of cards and the stakes were for his son’s hand in marriage to Miss Alice Tombs. With no acceptable legal way out of the situation, Nick and Alice decide to make the arrangement mutually beneficial: after a few months together to prove the validity of the marriage, the two will largely go their separate ways, with Nick continuing with his former life at Hatherly Hall and Alice traveling and working on her scholarly research.  The arrangement sets up my favorite type of romance novel, which is one that maximizes the time the hero and heroine spend together. Whether they want to be or not, because Nick and Alice are married, most of the book revolves around scenes that put the two of them together, and that leaves plenty of room for fun banter and lots of opportunities to explore their developing relationship.

Nick and Alice’s relationship is satisfying because they empower each other to live their lives to the fullest. Alice encourages Nick to see that you can’t shortchange your life because of something that might happen, and Nick encourages Alice to embrace the idea that with the right partner, you can live your dreams and have someone to share them with you.