Tag Archives: Romance

The Romance Garden!

And after a downright autumnal week, dear readers, it seems that summer has decided to come back for a visit–so it’s a perfect day to return to our Romance Garden, where our genre experts bring you some of their favorite reads from the past month!

Lady Reading in the Garden (1894). Niels Frederik Schiøttz-Jensen


Bridget: Lord of Lies by Amy Sandas

This is the third installment in Amy Sandas’ Fallen Ladies series, but that will have no effect at all on your ability to enjoy this–though, if you’re anything like me, it will definitely make you want to track down the others in the series to read them, too!

Portia Chadwick had once resigned herself to a life of quiet (and boring) decorum–until the day her sister is abducted by a moneylender.  Desperate, Portia tracks down Nightshade, a man who knows England’s darkest shadows, to help her find him.  Dell Turner grew up in the bleakest of circumstances, and he’s never shaken the dirt of the gutter off his shoes–or the chip off his shoulder.  He’s perfectly willing to help the young lady who comes begging for help finding his sister, but he never anticipates that she’ll want to be involved in the case…or that he’ll be so eager to keep her by his side.  But when their partnership is dissolved, what hope will Dell have that Portia will want any more to do with him?

I’m really tired of the “delicate miss decides to have an adventure” story, but Portia’s honesty, and her genuine interest in learning made her feel like a different kind of heroine.  I also really appreciated the fact that she and Dell could be upfront and honest with each other during their partnership–and learned how to transfer that honesty into their real life relationship, too.  Though some of the situations here were a little outlandish, the heart of this story is a really fantastic, visceral, pulse-pounding and heart-warming romance that made me an instant fan of this series.

Kelley: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare’s newest series, “Girl Meets Duke,” is off to a great start with the story of the Duke of Ashbury (Ash), a scarred war veteran, and Emma Gladstone, a seamstress trying to make her way in the world after being cast out by her vicar father. After a firm rejection from his fiance, Ash believes that he is too hideous to be loved or desired by any woman, but he knows that he needs to have an heir to ensure that his tenants and employees are cared for when he is gone. Enter Emma Gladstone.

When Emma shows up demanding to be paid for the wedding dress she made for the duke’s former fiance, Ash offers her two choices: he can pay her what she is owed for the dress or he can make her a duchess. While it’s not the most flattering of proposals, due to financial reasons and the opportunity to help a friend, Emma accepts under the condition that the duke join her for dinner- with conversation- every evening.

The book is full of Tessa Dare’s signature charming touches like comical pet names and Shakespearean insults. Add a well-meaning butler, a meddlesome maid, an incorrigible teenage boy, and an ornery cat, and you have a romance that has as many funny moments as romantic ones. And all of those moments lead our main characters closer to each other, closer to healing, and closer to love.

Until next month, dear readers, remember…every mind needs a little dirt in which to grow!

The Romance Garden!

And so we come once more to a new month, and a new sampling of our genre experts’ favorite selections from their romance reading.  We hope you enjoy–perhaps in your own summertime garden?  Or someone else’s?  Or the beach?  Or the mountains?  There is no where that Library books cannot travel!

Joseph Farquharson 1846-1935 Scottish painter

Bridget: Lady Clare is All That by Maya Rodale

It’s been a while since I found a romance that really worked for me, so it was a treat to come across Maya Rodale’s newest book and remember all the things I love about her romances.

Lady Claire Cavendish is a mathematician, even if no one finds brains attractive in a woman.  She has come to England to find a man–a specific man–another mathematician.  But instead, she finds the handsome, beguiling, and infuriating Lord Fox.  Fox has been nursing his ego ever since his fiancee jilted him.  So when he is offered a bet that he can transform Lady Claire, Society’s roughest diamond, into its most prized jewel, he figures it is the perfect way to divert his attention.  He never bargained on his subject being a real, actual–and fascinating–person.

Maya Rodale is one of those writers who really thinks about the romances she is writing, and the journey on which she sends her characters, so this Pygmalion-esque plot had a lot of depth, and a lot of transformations (though not the kind that either character imagined).  I loved that Claire never bothered to hide her brains, and that Fox, even though he hadn’t a clue what she was talking about, loved her for it.  All in all, this was a really fun, diverting, and heartwarming romance about loving someone both because of, and regardless of their looks.

Kelley: Between the Devil and the Duke by Kelly Bowen

Regency Romance writer Kelly Bowen is back with the third volume in her “A Season for Scandal” series. Angelique Archer is the unfortunate sister of a thoroughly debauched marquess. Since the death of both of their parents, the Archers find themselves on the brink of financial ruin, and Angelique knows for certain that her brother will do nothing to remedy the situation so she decides to take matters into her own hands.

Given her strength in mathematics and skill at cards, Angelique tries her luck at a gaming hell that allows masked women to attend anonymously. The success she has at the vingt-et-un table allows the Archers to keep up appearances, but it also attracts the attention of the gaming hell’s owner Alexander Lavoie. Alexander is initially attracted by Angelique’s mysterious beauty, but that attraction becomes something much more when he witnesses her quick mind, independence and resourceful nature firsthand.

A romance that includes mystery, a taste of London’s underworld, and a surprising plot twist, Between the Devil and the Duke is not your traditional Regency, but I think my favorite aspect of this book is that Alex and Angelique’s “happily ever after” is refreshingly different as well. However, if you want to know what happens, you’ll have to read the book. No spoilers in the Romance Garden! Happy reading!

Until next month, dear readers!

The Romance Garden!

And so we come to the opening of a new month, dear readers, and a mid-week holiday!  Don’t forget, the Library will close at 5pm today (July 3), and will be closed for Independence Day!

A mid-week holiday is the perfect time to indulge in a good book, and today, our genre experts have a few new suggestions for you to keep your heart fluttering and your imagination fired up.  We hope you enjoy!


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

When I teach history, one of the things I try really hard to impress on my students is that people haven’t changed all that much–what’s changed, is the way we tell stories, and who the heroes and heroines of those stories are.  Mackenzi Lee reinforces this lesson is a hug, bawdy, over-the-top novel that is full of the kind of characters who normally get overlooked in history books.

Henry “Monty” Montague may have attended the best boarding schools, and raised to be a proper English gentleman, but there is nothing in his world capable of taming him.  He’s flamboyant, reckless, and more than willing to dally with women and men alike.  But Monty knows his time is limited–after his Grand Tour, he’s supposed to be settling down to his familial obligations, which he is wholly unsuited to do.  He’s also harboring a crush on his best friend, Percy, who is traveling with him, which just makes everything more complicated. But Monty decides to make the best of what time he has and, with Percy and Monty’s sister by his side, sets out for the wildest Grand Tour that Europe has ever seen.

And what a ride it is!  The action in the middle part of this book get a wee bit absurd, but this book is so grand, and so enthusiastic, and so adventurous that any traditional trip around the continent would just seem silly.  Instead, we get pirates and manhunts, and derring-do a-plenty.  We also get a wealth of fascinating characters who embody a number of identities not typically seen in any book, let alone a historical.  But Lee’s historic notes at the back of the book justify her choices, and help us realize how vital it is to tell the stories she is.

And best of all, this is a smashing good romance that deals with self-acceptance and loyalty and passion, and is just the kind of book to sweep you off your feet–and off on the adventure of a lifetime!


A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J.Maas

With A Court of Mist and Fury, Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series leaps from a mediocre read to a strong and engaging romantic fantasy that will leave readers eagerly seeking out the next volume when they finish this one. This book picks up where the first left off, with Feyre engaged to Tamlin, High Lord of the Spring Court, but suffering from depression, due to events from the first book, which is exacerbated by the overly protective and controlling nature of her high fae fiance.

For the first part of the book, Feyre is forced to divide her time between two of the Fae courts of Prythian, Spring which she considers her home, and the Night Court, where she must visit one week each month after being forced into a bargain with the court’s high lord, Rhysand. While she reluctantly visits the Night Court, Rhysand gives Feyre opportunities to master her newfound fae powers, and she finds herself feeling less powerless and less accepting of the restrictive life Tamlin imposes on her. When those restrictions cause her to reach a breaking point, Rhysand arranges for her rescue, and brings her to stay at Night Court as long as she wishes. Throughout the story, war looms on the horizon, and Fayre may be the key to winning the battle for Prythian.

The romance that develops between Feyre and Rhysand is one of equals who empower each other. Despite their mating bond, a fae connection between two people that goes deeper than an ordinary marriage but can be rejected by either party, Rhysand always makes sure that Feyre knows that she has choices and is powerful in her own right. Despite their magical and physical power, Rhysand and Feyre are both vulnerable and in finding each other they find comfort for the lonely parts of themselves. In addition to intensely romantic, their courtship is fun- Rhysand’s flirtatious nature and Feyre’s foul mouth are pure gold in the world of romance banter. Pair all of that wonderful romance with some fantastic world building, and I can easily say this is the best romantic fantasy I have read since A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet.

A disclaimer for those who read the first book in the series and found themselves disappointed: Having read the first volume, A Court of Thorns and Roses,  and been completely disappointed by the last third of the book, which in my opinion felt like a Hunger Games rip-off, I was reluctant to continue the series. In the end, the good reviews and readily available status on Overdrive won out,  A Court of Mist and Fury went on vacation with me, and it turned out to be the kind of book that made me wish my plane ride was just a little bit longer.

Until next month, beloved patrons–happy reading!

The Romance Garden!

Many patrons over the weekend were bemoaning the fickle nature of springtime in New England, and the general inability to get any productive gardening accomplished in the face of Mother Nature’s ill-humor.

We can’t fix the weather, sadly dear readers, but there is one thing we can do, and that is promise you plenty of reading material (as well as viewing material, listening material, etc…..) to get you through these less than sunshine-filled days.  And there are few books that are quite literally designed to make your days a little happier than a romance novel.  Which is why our genre experts are back for a round-up of their recommendations for your reading pleasure.

And just a silly note to keep you smiling: We feature “women reading” a lot in this particular series of blog posts, and it’s tricky to find new (and attributable) art sometimes.  So here, if you’re interested, is the MFA’s online gallery, entitled “Women Reading“.  Enjoy!

And so, without any further ado…

Bridget: I Dared the Duke by Anna Bennett

I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy (Oscar Wilde)

Anna Bennett’s new book may have some familiar tropes–the innocent lady governess (of sorts), the notorious, ne’er-do-well Duke, and the “battle of wits” between them.  What really surprised me here, however, was how much this book ran counter to traditional tropes, giving us a heroine with backbone and confidence, and a hero whose thin veneer of misogynistic bluster barely hid a smart hero who knows when and how to apologize.

Miss Elizabeth Lacey is the middle girl in a family of wallflowers.  As such, she has become a companion to the Dowager Duchess of Blackshire–the grandmother of one of the more notorious Dukes in England.  And upon their first meeting, Alex, the Duke of Blackshire, he of the handsome face, the mysterious burns, and the dark reputation, more than lives up to his reputation, bursting into the house and promptly firing Beth.

Alex knows exactly what people say about him, and he doesn’t care.  But someone wants him dead, and until he can unmask the villain, he refuses to take any chances–he needs to get his Grandmother out of London and hidden safely away before any harm can befall her.  But it seems he must match wits with the most cunning and determined woman in London in order to succeed.

I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this romance.  There was something Jane-Eyre-esque about Beth’s relationship with Alex, where they both saw each other from the first as humans, and their class and positions of power fell away when they were together.  I really appreciated that Alex’s Grandmother was not a plot point, but a living, breathing human character who I really came to care for over the course of the story.  And Bennett’s writing was spot on, providing a book that was genuinely funny, emotional, and suspenseful by turns, making this an ideal bit of reading fun.

Though I’ve not read much by Anna Bennett in the past, I know I’ll be placing a hold on her other books soon!

Kelley: My Fair Duchess  by Megan Frampton

In the world of historical romance novels, there are a few things that readers can almost always expect to find: a trip to the modiste, at least one ball and possibly a house party, scandalous behavior on a carriage ride…. You see where I’m going with this. But for readers looking for something a bit different, Frampton’s latest “Dukes Behaving Badly” novel offers a pleasant surprise: the “duke” behaving badly is a duchess!

After her father’s death, Genevieve learns that he fought to have the title passed to Genevieve if his sons predeceased him. The scenario was unlikely at best, so when Genevieve becomes a duchess, she finds she is entirely unprepared to take on the role and duties that come with it. A concerned  letter to her godmother leads to the arrival of Archibald Salisbury, “Archie”, a war hero and steward who just happens to be the disowned son of a viscount, and therefore the perfect person to teach Genevieve what she needs to know to navigate society and manage her estates.

What I loved about this romance wasn’t just the unconventional title inheritance; it was the way that Archie and Genevieve challenged each other to confront the challenges in their lives. Archie admires Genevieve and loves watching her grow confidence and embrace her position of power as a duchess. In turn, Genevieve becomes the bridge that brings Archie to take steps to mend his relationship with his family. The two encourage each other to embrace who they were born to be, but at the same time it’s clear that they will do things their own wonderful way.

Until next month, beloved patrons–may all your books have happily ever afters!


The Romance Garden!

Look!  I found actual flowers!  It’s like it’s spring or something!

Yesterday was the first day of baseball season, dear readers, which, as far as I’m concerned, means that it’s spring, regardless of whether there is still a snow bank at the end of my driveway.

So, as you begin to think about your own gardens, about the pansies and the forsythia that will grace your pots, about the crocuses popping up through the winter-hard soil, and about the beautiful colors that will be gracing our gardens in a few months’ time, why not come in and check out the romances gracing our shelves?

Because, as we say here, every mind needs a little dirt in which to grow….

The Artist’s Wife (Périe, 1849–1887) Reading
by Albert Bartholome

Bridget: A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran

I love Meredith Duran’s books.  I love that she picks historic time periods or themes that most writers wouldn’t touch.  I love that her heroines are tough as iron, and I love that her heroes aren’t macho stereotypes.  And this book reminded me just what a terrific romance writer she is.

Facing an unwanted marriage that will rob her of her fortune (and, most likely, her sanity), Jane Mason no longer cares about her reputation.  Desperate to get as far away from her past as possible, she strikes a bargain with the most notorious man she knows–a politician with a bright future, but a dark reputation.  Crispin Burke learned the hard way not to let down his guard around anyone.  He agrees to Jane’s scheme, knowing that he simply can’t get hurt.  But when Crispin’s whole world get turned on upside down, Jane may be the only person left who can save him.

For all the high stakes in this description, there is a lot of humor in this book; Crispin himself is a brilliant young man, and the banter between him and the quick-witted Jane are delightful.  More than anything though, I loved that the emphasis of this book was on trust, and how important trust is to true love.  Though this lush and lovely novel is the fifth in Duran’s Rules of the Reckless series, this is a perfect place for newcomers to start reading.

KelleyFalling for the Highlander by Lynsay Sands

When Lady Murine Carmichael runs away after her brother tries to trade her for horses, the last thing she expects is to be rescued by and fall in love with the man who refused to take her as payment, but that’s just what happens in this delightful Highland romance that’s as sweet as it is funny. Although the threat to Murine from her family  is complicated, the relationship between her and Dougall Buchanan isn’t. Dougall admires Murine’s bravery, and Murine immediately trusts Dougall to keep her safe. Dougall never questions that he wants to be with Murine, but his quiet hesitation as he figures out just how to pursue her respectfully and with care makes him an easy hero to fall in love with. As to Murine, her bravery is underscored by her unsurety when it comes to being in a relationship. She knows what she wants, but her quiet surprise at the discovery adds depth to her already enjoyable character.

Falling for the Highlander is the fourth in Sands’ “Scottish Highlanders” series, and not knowing that at the outset, I still had no trouble beginning here. If you’re looking for a romance with characters you won’t hesitate to root for from the start, you won’t regret an afternoon spent with Murine and Dougall.

Until next month, beloved patrons, happy reading!
Henri Matisse, Reader on a Black Background, 1939

The Romance Garden!

It seemed for a day or two that spring had finally sprung, dear readers, but it seems our hopes for our gardens may have been somewhat premature.  Thankfully, here in our Romance Garden, it’s always perfect weather, and the time is always right for a little romance.

And here are our genre aficionados’ selections for the month to help you find just the right romance to keep you going until the weather sees fit to cooperate once again!

Claude Monet, Lady in the Garden

Under the Wire by Helenkay Dimon
I’ve made my love of Helenkay Dimon’s stories quite clear in the past, and that adoration has only been confirmed by her Bad Boys Undercover series.  As usual, Dimon creates fascinating, complex plots, and deeply meaningful, complicated relationships among her protagonists.  Best of all, she clearly delights in subverting genre stereotypes in her books, ensuring that readers are always going to be kept on their toes.

In this fourth novel (more or less a standalone), Reid Armstrong, one of the elite operatives working for the security agency known as Alliance, is eagerly looking forward to a well-earned vacation.  That is, until he hears that his former fiancée has disappeared while on a top-secret scientific expedition.  He knows he blew his chances with Cara’s heart, but he isn’t about to turn his back on her.  When Cara wakes up alone in a destroyed camp, she knows that she is still a target.  And when Reid appears on the scene, it seems the danger has only increased.  Even if they manage to get home alive, being so close to the man she still loves could break Cara’s heart for good.

I loved the way that Reid–as stoic and apparently unflappable as they come–has his world turned upside down by Cara, and that, despite all his alpha-male tendencies, he isn’t afraid to let her shine all by herself.  Their adventures full of action and high-stakes tension, but Dimon certainly doesn’t skimp on the emotions here, making for a book–and a series–that readers will love.


The Danger of Desire  by Sabrina Jeffries
A quick look at her website tells me that author Sabrina Jeffries is pretty prolific, but somehow I never managed to find my way to one of her wonderful romances until a trip to the library led me to the third book in her Sinful Suitors series, The Danger of Desire. Thankfully, reading the third book first was no problem, and being as I enjoyed the book so much I fully expect that I’ll be headed back for the first and second installments.

Our hero is Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford, a notorious rakehell who spends his evenings at cards and in brothels. Despite appearances, prone to horrifying nightmares, Knightford’s night life is less glamorous than it seems.  Our heroine is Miss Delia Trevor, a woman determined to avenge her brother’s death and ruin by disguising herself as a man and playing cards at a men’s club in order to uncover the identity of the man who cheated him. Delia’s dangerous game is uncovered by Knightford and the two quickly discover that they enjoy each other’s company even when they are at odds.

Being as my non-romance reading is often pretty dense, I tend to look for romances that are light and fun with plots that keep the pages compulsively turning. I like my heroes flirtatious and quick witted and my heroines independent and up for adventure. If there are some quirky and charming family members, or in this case aloof and selective cats, all the better. The Danger of Desire delivered on all of those things making for a lovely afternoon of escape reading. The resolutions of the book’s two primary conflicts are a bit oversimplified, but overall I would highly recommend it. I, for one, will definitely be checking out more of Sabrina Jeffries’ books in the future. Lucky for me, there are a lot of them!

Until next month, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Love is Everywhere!

I have already lost count, dear readers, of how many emails I’ve received from publishers, from Amazon, from various other bookish outlets to which I subscribe, all touting romance novels for Valentine’s Day.  And we still have a week to go (or only a week, I suppose, if Valentine’s Day is your thing…)!  We all know that I really love my romance novels, and we here at the Free For All are always ready to support any reader who would like to explore and enjoy romance novels, as well.  But the overwhelming focus on the genre this week got me thinking about love stories….And the fact that they are everywhere.

…I just said that.

Romance novels deal very specifically in the act of falling in love; in the realization that love makes life worth living.  But they are by no means the only genre that focuses on love.  In fiction, especially, love often defines the stakes of a plot, whether it be a mystery, a science fiction adventure, or a horror novel.

Love gives a story its high stakes, no matter what that story is.  The only reason Benjamin Mears goes after Barlow in Salem’s Lot is because of his love for Susan Norton.  Hamletconsidered by many to be the greatest drama ever written, pivots on any number of love stories.  Heck, even Richard Kadrey’s Coop Heists, which are officially among the weirdest (and most sublime) books I’ve ever read, feature Coop and his girl Giselle, and that bond is a foundational aspect of this series, and a critical part of Coop’s own development as a character.

And that doesn’t even touch on the other kinds of love stories that can be found in literature.  Whether its a love of cooking or creating to the love we have for our pets, to the love we have for our sports teams, love defines us, gives us purpose, and sets the stakes for whatever journey we’re on.

So let’s not pretend that love is a thing that only lives in romances, or that love stories aren’t critically important aspects of the stories that we read and tell.  In fact, since we’re on the subject, let’s look at a few books that definitely don’t feature “romance” stickers on them…

SecurityOne of the most haunting, unsettling, fascinating books I’ve read in a very long time, Gina Wohlsdorf’s debut is also a story about love–the things we are distances we go, the chances we take, and the pain we suffer for it.  Though it’s a violent, scary, and super-twisted book about a covert attack on a new building that is billed as the ‘world’s most secure hotel’, it’s the love stories that are revealed in the course of the book that make you care whether anyone survives.  Don’t read this book in the dark, but read it.  I promise you’ll be surprised, and even a little charmed–even if it’s in spite of yourself.

The Kenzie and Gennaro SeriesI have read this series, set in the Dorchester of the 1990’s, multiple times.  Dennis Lehane is an absolute master at creating a scene, and sketching characters that are as familiar as your own neighbors.  His plots are clever and twisty and raise detective fiction to something close to classic literature.  But what I always take away from these books is the love between Patrick Kenzie and his partner, Angie Gennaro.  I won’t spoil anything for you by telling you how their story unfolds; read these books for their neo-noir atmosphere; read them for their bitterly prescient discussions of race, class, and power; read them for the thrill of recognizing your home in someone else’s books…but read these books for these two characters, too.  Their journey, together and separately, are what makes these books the classics they are.

All Our Wrong Todays: This book is on it’s way to us right now, and is a pitch-perfect blend of science fiction and love story.  Elan Mastai’s debut focuses on Tom Barron a young man who lives in an alternate, idyllic 2016, where there is no war, no fear, and technological developments aplenty.  But Tom makes a mistake.  A critical, stupid mistake that brings him into our screwed up, messy, angry world.  But when he’s provided with a chance to return to the world he knew, he begins to realize what I’ve been saying this whole time…that it’s not the things we have, but the people who make our futures worth exploring.  That we are defined by love–all kinds of love.  We are made human by love.  And that love can make any journey worthwhile.