It may not be gardening weather quite yet, dear readers, but it is time for a visit to our romance garden (because every mind needs a little dirt in which to grow). To celebrate the approach of March, our Library’s romance readers bring you some of their top selections to help you find a new literary love–or to begin exploring the genre for the very first time! Feel free to drop by the Library to get more suggestions on romance novels–or any other types of novels–soon!
The writing duo that is Christina Lauren has certainly cornered the market on angsty/adorable romances, and this stand-alone tale about careers and quarter-life crises is yet another feather in their already-well-decorated hat.
When Carter and Evie meet at a mutual friend’s Halloween party, it’s one of those things that could either go colossally badly…or shockingly well. Even the realization that they’re both high-powered agents at competing firms in Hollywood isn’t enough to squash the fire. But when their two agencies merge–causing the pair to vie for the same position–all bets are off. What could have been a beautiful, blossoming romance turns into an all-out war of sabotage. Carter and Evie are both thirtysomething professionals–so why can’t they act like it? Can Carter stop trying to please everyone and see how their mutual boss is really playing the game? Can Evie put aside her competitive nature long enough to figure out what she really wants in life? Can their actor clients just be something close to human?
I loved that this book allowed both Carter and Evie to be silly, smart, career-driven, and in love without judgement. Though it takes a while for them to wake up and realize what they really want and need out of life, their chemistry together is so pitch-perfect that it’s well worth the wait to see them find their happy ending!
After one scandal too many, Lord Samuel Travis finds himself in a desperate situation when his marquess brother kicks him out of the house with nothing but the clothes on his back. In order to get back in his brother’s good graces, Sam must reclaim a house that is currently occupied by Miss Juliette Lacey and her scientifically brilliant but mentally scattered elderly uncle. What seems like an easy assignment proves impossible when Sam meets extreme resistance from Julie who wants to protect both her uncle and her family’s home.
With nowhere else to go, Sam takes up residence in the house and, while there, finds himself coming to care both for Julie and her uncle. In the meantime, Sam’s brother Nigel, the marquess, has other ideas about Julie’s future, and she finds herself in a tug of war between the brother who can amply provide for her but only wants her in his bed, and the brother who has no means to provide for himself let alone a wife but offers his heart.
As Julie comes to realize that she wants a more fulfilling life than a loveless marriage to a titled gentleman, Sam determines to make more of himself and seeks opportunities to make himself worthy of the woman he loves. A sweet romance complete with witty dialogue and a charming nutty professor with a romantic heart, “The Rogue is Back in Town” is a perfect Sunday afternoon read.
As we mentioned here previously, we here at the Library are Resolving to Read (more…different….) in 2018, and tackling both Book Riot’s and Scholastic’s 2018 Reading Challenges. In the hopes of encouraging you to broader your literary horizons along with us, here are some suggestions for books that fall within the categories of the various challenges.
Today’s Challenge: Book Riot 2018 Read Harder Challenge Category: Romance Novels By Or About a Person of Color
We’ve talked a lot in the past about how we love romance novels here at the Free-For-All, and also about how we’re really ready to see more diversity in the genre at large. So this week’s challenge is one very near and dear to our hearts. There have been a number of sensation romances published in the past few years that feature People of Color–but that shouldn’t distract us from the classic romance novels that have stood the test of time and readers’ devotion. What makes these books so great is that they are not only willing to confront issues of racial identity, but also to question issues of body image, sexual identity, class, and gender norms, making these romances as ground-breaking and thought-provoking as they are heart-racing.
So let’s take a look at some of the terrific titles that you can select to fulfill your resolution–and perhaps even discover a few new authors whose work you can savor for months and years to come!
An Extraordinary Union: No list of romances featuring People of Color would be in any way complete or comprehensive without Alyssa Cole’s sensational novel of Civil War espionage and passion–and the first of what is sure to be an unmissable series. Elle Burns is a former slave with a passion for justice and an eidetic memory. Trading in her life of freedom in Massachusetts, she returns to the indignity of slavery in the South–to spy for the Union Army. Malcolm McCall is a detective for Pinkerton’s Secret Service. Subterfuge is his calling, but he’s facing his deadliest mission yet–risking his life to infiltrate a Rebel enclave in Virginia. Two undercover agents who share a common cause–and an undeniable attraction–Malcolm and Elle join forces when they discover a plot that could turn the tide of the war in the Confederacy’s favor. This is a book that confronts the horrors of slavery in America, but still holds fast to the belief that love will not only conquer all, but can redeem us, as well.
Breathless: Beverly Jenkins is among the royalty of the romance genre, and all of her books, frankly, are wonderful. She creates wonderful, vivid, and beautifully empathetic characters, and places them in (generally speaking) historically accurate situations that allow her to reflect on issues of identity, power, and freedom in really creative ways. In this book, Portia Carmichael is the manager of one of the finest hotels in Arizona Territory. She has respect and stability—qualities sorely missing from her harsh childhood. She refuses to jeopardize all that by keeping company with the wrong man–but the arrival of an old family friend may have her thinking she’s found someone right. Kent Randolph has learned his share of hard lessons. After drifting through the West, he’s learned the value of a place to settle down, and in Portia’s arms he’s found that and more. But convincing her to trust him with her heart, not just her passion, will be the greatest challenge he’s known—and one he intends to win…You quite seriously cannot go wrong with Beverly Jenkins work, so make sure to check out her many others books as you make your way through this resolution!
A Bollywood Affair: Sonali Dev’s romances have it all–interesting characters, real issues, beautiful settings–but they also deal with issues facing women in India, from conforming to stereotypes and ‘proper behavior’ to the difficulty of balancing tradition with progress. But there is also the deep bonds with family, the sensational food, and the meaningful tradition, all of which combine to make Dev’s books so enchanting. In this story, Mili Rathod hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years–not since she was promised to him at the age of four. Yet marriage has allowed Mili a freedom rarely given to girls in her village. She was even allowed her to leave India and study in America for eight months, all to make her the perfect modern wife. Which is exactly what Mili longs to be–if her husband would just come and claim her. Bollywood’s favorite director, Samir Rathod, has come to Michigan to secure a divorce for his older brother. Persuading a naïve village girl to sign the papers should be easy for someone with Samir’s tabloid-famous charm. But Mili is neither a fool nor a gold-digger. Open-hearted yet complex, she’s trying to reconcile her independence with cherished traditions. And before he can stop himself, Samir is immersed in Mili’s life–cooking her dal and rotis, escorting her to her roommate’s elaborate Indian wedding, and wondering where his loyalties and happiness lie. This book is Dev’s first, but each of the four she has published to date are winners, so keep your eye out for this author!
Such a Pretty Face: The blurb for Gabrielle Goldsby’s lesbian romance may sound like it’s a tale of revenge-bods and vengeance, but, in truth, it really couldn’t be any further away. It’s a story about learning to love yourself, and to find people who can see the best in you no matter what–and that is a message we all need to hear from time to time. Mia Sanchez is a Mexican American financial adviser who has recently bought a new house with her partner of four years. She is stunned when her Brenda tells her she has accepted a 5-month job in Fiji, and that she’ll be using the time to “think about their future together.” Mia hadn’t thought words could be more painful until Brenda followed up hers with, “You’ve really let yourself go over the last few years.” Hurt and along, Mia finds a little comfort is staring at Ryan, the stunning blonde construction worker at Mia’s work. Ryan has her own issues with physical beauty, in the form of a scar on her face, but neither the scar nor Mia’s weight seem to be a problem when they finally start talking. This is a funny, insightful, and wonderfully honest book about the power of real love to see past the superficial, and to transform that holds up even on the second or third reading!
We’ll be back next week with another Resolve to Read post, but until then, feel free to stop by the Library and let us help you discover your new favorite book of 2018!
We’ve made it a bit of a Valentine’s Day tradition here at the Free For All to share with you some literary love letter (or love letters from the literary) as our contribution to your Valentine’s Day celebrations. This year, we bring you a brief correspondence from the long relationship between novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West.
The beautiful relationship between Virginia and Vita began in December 1922, when Vita was invited to a dinner party at Virginia’s house, and continued to grow and develop over the course of nearly twenty years. It would appear that there was an immediate affinity between the two women that would develop in the coming weeks and years into a force that would change them both for the better.
Despite the class and age differences between the two women (when they met, Vita was 30 and Virginia nearly 40), they had far more in common that it might at first appear: both women suffered from sheltered upbringings and emotionally distant parents, and both embodied identities that went beyond traditional heterosexuality, though the language was not readily available to help them identify at the time. Both women were married to men, but both experienced emotional and sexual relationships outside of their marriages. As Vita’s son wrote years later of the two women and their marriages:
Their marriages were alike in the freedom they allowed each other, in the invincibility of their love, in its intellectual, spiritual and non-physical base, in the eagerness of all four of them to savour life, challenge convention, work hard, play dangerously with the emotions — and in their solicitude for each other.
They were also both devoted writers; it was, perhaps, a test of their friendship that they didn’t see eye-to-eye in terms of literary matters, but still supported each others’ literary endeavors whole-heartedly. Vita chose to publish her books with Hogarth Press, the publishing company that Virginia and her husband founded, and the revenues from those books allowed Virginia the financial freedom to publish her more experimental works, such as The Waves.
Vita was also instrumental in helping Virginia come to terms with herself and her past. As their friendship developed, Virginia confided in Vita that she had been abused by her step-brother as a child, and Vita became instrumental in helping her work to heal those wounds and accept herself. Moreover, Virginia’s father had diagnosed her as ‘nervous’ as a child, and stated that writing would only result in a breakdown. Virginia grew up obsessed with physical fitness, believing it was the only key to remaining healthy. Vita was the first person to encourage her writing and her self-esteem, urging her to see that her writing came from strengths, rather than being a source of weakness. The results were truly moving. While they were traveling in Paris, Virginia purchased a mirror, saying she felt she could look in a mirror for the first time in her life.
Years later, Virginia would present Vita with her novel Orlando, a brilliant, satirical, and stunningly beautiful story about the adventures of a poet who changes sex from man to woman and lives for centuries, meeting the key figures of English literary history. The character of Orlando was based on Vita, and embodied not only her queer identity, but also her passion for life, her social skills, and the wicked sense of humor that both women shared.
According to some sources, the two ended their friendship over their views over the political decisions that led to the outbreak of the Second World War–Virginia was a staunch pacifist, while Vita supported German rearmament. The love between them, however, endured. After Virginia Woolf’s death by suicide in 1941, Vita’s friendship remained constant. She wrote heartfelt condolence letters to Virginia’s husband and sister, commemorating Virginia’s individuality and spirit in a way that only someone who loved her profoundly could do:
The loveliest mind and spirit I ever knew, immortal both to the world and us who loved her. … This is not a hard letter to write as you will know something of what I feel and words are unnecessary. For you I feel a really overwhelming sorrow, and for myself a loss which can never diminish.
Here, we present a letter from Vita to Virginia, along with Virginia’s response, written while Vita was traveling in Italy. This set of letters is beautiful, not only because it conveys their depth of their feelings for each other (and the pain that being separated caused them)–there are also some wonderful observations on the power of true love to cut through our façades and to see through our masks. Their plain, honest admission of missing each other is in itself moving, but it’s also fascinating to see both women admit to not being able to pretend around each other. That kind of inherent honesty is pretty rare in relationships, and it’s that beautiful honest that we celebrate today.
Milan [posted in Trieste]
Thursday, January 21, 1926
I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your un-dumb letters, would never write so elementary phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it would lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is just really a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this—But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defences. And I don’t really resent it …
Please forgive me for writing such a miserable letter.
From Woolf to Sackville-West
52 Tavistock Square
Tuesday, January 26
Your letter from Trieste came this morning—But why do you think I don’t feel, or that I make phrases? ‘Lovely phrases’ you say which rob things of reality. Just the opposite. Always, always, always I try to say what I feel. Will you then believe that after you went last Tuesday—exactly a week ago—out I went into the slums of Bloomsbury, to find a barrel organ. But it did not make me cheerful … And ever since, nothing important has happened—Somehow its dull and damp. I have been dull; I have missed you. I do miss you. I shall miss you. And if you don’t believe it, you’re a longeared owl and ass. Lovely phrases? …
But of course (to return to your letter) I always knew about your standoffishness. Only I said to myself, I insist upon kindness. With this aim in view, I came to Long Barn. Open the top button of your jersey and you will see, nestling inside, a lively squirrel with the most inquisitive habits, but a dear creature all the same—
Note: Long Barn was the name of the country home that Vita Sackville-West and her husband owned in Kent.
Anti-Valentine’s Day – Don’t have a date? Recently ended a relationship? Pick a book, buy some ice cream, and do that self-love thing for yourself!
They Both Die At The Endby Adam Riveras – I mean … you can guess what happens at the end. The lead up is a great LGBT romance between two Latino boys who really just need a friend for their last day on earth.
Romeo & Julietby William Shakespeare – Spoiler alert, it doesn’t end well.
Looking For Alaskaby John Green – In his first heart wrenching novel you’ll find that the guy does not, in fact, get the girl and the manic pixie dream girl trope gets squashed into the dust.
The Breakup Bibleby Melissa Kantor – For the recently single Valentine’s Day woes this book is a great and hilarious “how-to” to get over that ex!
Wuthering Heightsby Emily Bronte – Heathcliff: The benchmark for all revenge-obsessed lovers in literature
It’s February, dear readers, and that means that we’re most likely going to be talking about romances a lot. So what better way to start things off than a wander through our Romance Garden (because every mind needs a little dirt in which to grow). Here, our genre aficionados share with you their favorite recent reads across the romance genre. We hope you find something here that inspires you to try a new romance…or try the genre for the very first time? Either way, we hope you enjoy!
Renegade Cowboy by Sara Richardson: I am not really a fan of cowboy romances, but this book, the third installment of Sara Richardson’s Rocky Mountain Riders trilogy was a rare, and really important exception. The whole trilogy is pretty terrific, but you don’t need to have read through the whole story to fully appreciate this story. Cassidy Greer has the world on her shoulders. She lost her brother in a bull-riding accident several years ago. As a result, she’s studying to be a nurse, and desperately trying to help and protect her mother, who is spiraling into alcoholic depression and dementia as a result of her grief. So she has no time at all for her childhood crush (and her deceased brother’s best friend), Levi Cortez. A top-ranked bull-rider, Levi has spent years hiding from the mistakes in his past, and his shame at not being there for the Greers. Seeing Cassidy again is both a reckoning and, Levi realizes, a second chance. But can he convince Cassidy to take a chance on him again?
There are a lot of aspects of this book that are downplayed for the sake of brevity, especially Cassidy’s mother’s mental and physical health conditions. But having said that, the emotions in this story feel very real, and Richardson doesn’t give either her hero or her heroine and easy way out of their ingrained fears, or their awkward feelings. This is a book about apologies and redemption and self-acceptance that was moving an insightful and honest in a way that I haven’t encountered much recently. Even readers who aren’t a fan of ten-gallon hats or bull rings are going to find a lot to enjoy in this book–and the series, too!
Heart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet: The third book in Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles is every bit as good as the first two volumes and a worthy end to the trilogy. In book three, as they rally and train an army to take the final step in uniting the Kingdom of Thalyria, we find Cat and Griffin married and awaiting the arrival of their first child. In order to conquer the final realm, Fisa, Cat will be forced to confront the self-serving and ruthless mother who subjected her to years of terror and abuse as a child.
Cat is a child of the Gods and as such her path is often influenced by powers greater than herself. In addition, she has been given great power of her own, but has never been able to successfully channel those powers at will. As much as Heart on Fire focuses on the romantic relationship of Cat and Griffin, the book is even more powerfully a romance about falling in love with yourself. Cat realizes that unless she learns to believe in herself and find herself worthy of the life and family she loves, she will never be able to master her magic and stand in her own power. Along the way, Cat receives steady encouragement, love and support from Griffin, and when she reaches the place she needs to be in order to face her mother and Fisa, she and Griffin become a confident and powerful team who will rule their people with strength and love.
Throughout this series, Cat’s growth as a character is dramatic, and it’s enormously fulfilling to see her step fully into her destined role as Queen of Thalyria. Along the way, there is of course plenty of danger, adventure, magic and romance. More than once we see Cat and Griffin torn apart with seemingly little hope of coming together again, and more than once we’re rewarded with heartbreaking and tender scenes as they are reunited. But most powerful of all, is watching Cat earn her wings as she embraces all of the good and bad parts of herself, and learns to let her light shine not just for herself and her family but for her kingdom.
Until next month, dear readers, we wish you plenty of literary romance to savor!
Today, we’re taking a look back at a post from October 2015, an oldie-but-goodie that we hope you enjoy!
Yesterday, the fabulous book blog BookRiot posted a sensational review of “The Books That Made Us Romance Readers”–a collection of the books that changed their ideas of romance, and made them passionate, devoted genre readers. It was a wonderful article, with some truly sensational recommendations. But part of the introductory material really grabbed my attention: Author Nikki Steel mentioned her umbrage with The Word. That Word that so grates on my own nerves. That Word that always comes out when we talk about romance novels.
It’s a word that gets used so often in describing romances, and has been used for so long, that I think we may just take it for granted. But we shouldn’t. Because it’s a word loaded with so much meaning and judgement that it often keeps people from even picking up a romance novel, let alone enjoying all that it has to offer.
If I told you that a specific genre comprised 13% of all adult fiction sold, and over 50% of all paperbacks purchased, had a regular readership of 29 million people, and collectively earned $1.44 billionlast year (which is 20% of all adult fiction sales), what word would you use to describe that genre? Powerful? Probably. Influential? Certainly. Trashy? Most likely not…unless we are talking about romance. We talk about spy novels, political thrillers, mysteries as “light reads”, “easy reads”, or “fun reads”. But very, very seldom does anyone call these genres by the T word. Also, I have never seen anyone act shyly about checking out or reading a book with explosions, military paraphernalia, or espionage-type briefcases and trench-coats on the covers. Yet there remains a stigma about romances that no statistics can seem to shake. Why?
In a career retrospective, playwright Vicky Featherstone recalled some advice she had been given years ago: “We’re really used to living in a society where the main narrative – politicians, kings, judges – the main narratives on-stage and in our lives are male-led. And actually, we don’t know whether we’re very good yet at watching a female narrative, especially with a flawed character.” I hold that this fact is true on-stage, in our lives, and in our books, as well. The idea of a male spy, a male army general, or a male detective isn’t at all revolutionary, or in any way dangerous. They have a cultural sanction to be the heroes of the story, and to have women as their sidekicks, their assistants, their lovers, wives, girlfriends, or victims. But the idea of a female spy (who isn’t femme-fatale), a female general, or a female private eye presents a challenge to many.
For centuries, female characters have been put in boxes. Medea is insane; Lady Macbeth is a villain; Bella Swan in an ingenue; Hester Prynne is a victim. And many people are still very uncomfortable when women break out of those boxes and become the uncontrollable, unpredictable heroine of their story (I’m looking at you, Gone Girl). Male heroes don’t challenge the status quo, just as male-dominated narratives don’t make us think twice. But women with narrative power calls all the things we consider ‘normal’ into question. And it is, sadly, a part of human nature to strike out at things that make us uncomfortable–to deny them their power in order to make things go back to ‘normal’.
Hence, the unfortunate rationale of That Word, and a major reason for the stigma surrounding romance novels: women in charge of their own lives, calling their own shots, and demanding happiness on her own terms challenges most of the narratives we have read throughout history. Perhaps most disheartening of all, though, it also stigmatizes readers. Readers who, according to the stats, tend to be college-educated people with jobs and incomes. But readers who are told time and again that romances aren’t “realistic” (because the idea zoo animals plotting to kill us all, or a zombie virus that can only be combatted by two male heroes is in any way more realistic?); that they give us an “unhealthy worldview” (if that were true, then we should all stop reading books about serial killers immediately). That they give unreasonable expectations…
But breaking out of those boxes, and having limitless expectations is precisely what romances allow female characters to do–indeed, it rewards them for it; not necessarily with marriage or with a man, but, more importantly, with fulfillment and self-affirmation. As the brilliant Maya Rodale explained in an article for Bustle: “the HEA [happily ever after] is the heroine’s reward for embarking on an adventure, defying expectations for herself, creating her own story, discovering what makes her happy and learning to live and love on her own terms. And the real reward isn’t the ring or the guy, it’s getting to be happy.” They encourage their female readers not to settle, and to refuse to stay put in the box.
So rather than label romances with words that strip them, their characters, and their readers of power and agency, let’s find a new way to describe them, shall we? Progressive? Revolutionary? Empowering?
…Or we can just start by calling them books. And reminding readers that they have brains and feelings and the individual right to read whatever they want.
Happy New Year, readers, and welcome to our first Romance Garden post of 2018!
We sincerely hope your new year is full of love, intrigue, and happily-ever-afters, and, to that end, we bring your our genre experts’ favorite reads from the past month. We hope they get your year started off on the right foot, and give you the chance to explore a new author, a new trope, or a whole new genre!
Every time I read a description of Tamara Morgan’s romances, my initial reaction is “that…that can’t work!”. And every single time, she proves me wrong. Without fail, her romances are smart, funny, insightful, and genuinely touching in a way I never expected, and thoroughly enjoyed.
This first in her new Penelope Blue series features a world-renowned (or most-wanted) jewel thief, Penelope Blue, and her husband, a dedicated and extraordinarily resourceful FBI agent. Penelope got involved with Grant Emerson simply so that she could keep her enemies close, and make sure he wouldn’t get too close to her and her fellow thieves. But the longer she spent with the ultra-handsome, whip-smart agent, the more she finds herself falling for him. And that will never do…he’s supposed to be her worst enemy, right? Things only get worse when Penelope embarks on a new jewel heist…and finds out that her husband has been assigned to track her down.
I normally loathe stories where the protagonists keep secrets from each other. In this case, however, Morgan somehow manages to make it work. Her characters are wonderfully vibrant and driven, ensuring that readers are somehow rooting for both of them, even though it seems there is no way for them to win without losing everything. And, despite all the odds, this is a book with an absolute, total, complete winner of an ending that had me cheering for this most unlikely of couples. Readers looking for a snarky, fast-paced, steamy romance need look no further than this book, and the series to follow!
Readers of historical romance know that you can almost never go wrong with a title by Eloisa James. High quality writing, nods to Shakespeare, humor, and just plain good stories are hallmarks of her work, and her latest book, Wilde in Love, doesn’t disappoint.
Lord Alaric Wilde is an adventurer just arrived home to England after years of traveling the world. While away, the books he wrote about his adventures became London’s best sellers, so unbeknownst to Alaric many admirers eagerly await the return of the highly eligible son of the Duke of Lindow. It seems every young woman in London has read his books and posted his picture on their bedroom walls; there is even a long running play (written by an anonymous playwright) about his life called, of course, Wilde in Love.
Appalled by his newfound celebrity, Alaric finds himself drawn to the only woman in England who hasn’t read of his adventures, Miss Willa Ffynche. Of course, Willa is a private woman who prefers a suitor with far less notoriety. Unlike most women in Alaric’s circle, Willa is well-read and easily holds her own in conversations of business and the world. She fascinates him and, much as Willa hates to admit it, the feeling is mutual.
Watching the couple come together, surrounded by an enjoyable cast of friends and Wilde family members, is fun as well as heartwarming. Readers should look forward to the upcoming stories of The Wildes of Lindow Castle.
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass