Tag Archives: Romance

The Romance Garden!

Romance is everywhere, dear readers.  Love stories can be found everywhere–not only in romance novels.  We’re not just talking about “some of the characters are married or getting married” plot lines.  We’re talking about the kind of slow-burning, evolving, enriching love stories that romance readers know and love.  They just take place on the pages of a book that is shelved in mystery, perhaps.  Or science fiction.  Or thriller.   Indeed, there are a number of established romance authors who work across genres, and bring their skills in crafting relationships to any number of different books, stories, and genres.

So, perhaps you are a reader who would like more romance in your life, but aren’t really in the mood for a full-on romance?  Or perhaps the romances are your favorite part of other genre installments?  Here are a few suggestions for you from our genre experts for “Romance in non-romance genres”.  We hope you find some inspiration for your next romantic read!

Murder on Black Swan Lane: The author of this intriguing series, Andrea Penrose, also writes historical romance novels under the name of Cara Elliott, and she brings the same nuanced character development, insight, and chemistry to this tale of murder, international intrigue and…well…chemistry.  The Earl of   (fans of Elliott’s work will remember this name!) has been plagued by the satirical cartoons of A.J. Quill, an artist as brilliant as he in ruthless in skewering the hypocrisy and debauchery of the aristocracy.  But then the clergyman is found slain in a church—his face burned by chemicals, his throat slashed ear to ear—and Wrexford finds himself the chief suspect.  Charlotte Sloan has been using her deceased husband’s pseudonym, A.J. Quill, drawing cartoons in order to keep poverty from the door.  Having anyone discover her secret would be disastrous–until Wrexford discovers her.  Instead of revealing her, however, he offers her a deal—use her sources to unveil the clergyman’s clandestine involvement in questionable scientific practices, and unmask the real murderer.  This is a pair unlike in temperament, class, and outlook, but they work together beautifully, and Penrose expertly crafts the bond between them that will keep readers spellbound even as the mystery they investigate grows ever deadlier.  If you enjoy this book, be sure to check out the second–Murder at Half Moon Gate.  It’s even better, believe me!

What Angels Fear: If historical mysteries are your cup of tea, I cannot recommend C.S. Harris’ series featuring Sebastian St. Cyr more highly.  These mysteries are expertly crafted, the danger is real, and the history is delightful.  But at the heart of this series is a hero who has had his heart broken too many times, and has a huge amount of emotional growing-up to do.  And Harris makes him do it.  As a result, the long plot arcs in this series, featuring St. Cyr’s family drama, clandestine romances, and finally finding a real true love, are unpredictable, daring, and wonderfully fulfilling.  These stories have a bit more mystery in them than Penrose’s, but the romance, the angst, and the true love, are critically important, too!  In this first book in the series, St. Cyr is the prime suspect in a the brutal rape and murder of a young woman whose body is left in an ancient church.  Desperate to save his own skin, and ever-ready to settle old debts, St. Cyr sets out to find the true culprit–and nearly upends the reign of the Prince Regent in the process.

 

SecurityGina Wohlsdorf’s debut was by far and away one of the most unexpected, unpredictable, and strangely moving books I’ve read in a long time.  On the surface, this is a book about a hotel–the most secure, technologically-advanced, luxurious hotel ever built.  Security cameras, sound-recording devices, and a wealth of other high-tech devices have been installed to ensure that guests enjoy the ultimate in comfort, privacy, and security.  But when the security system is hacked, allowing a band of unknown, vicious killers into the building, the Manderly Resort becomes a slaughter-house.  Beneath the surface, however, this is a story about human relationships–specifically, the relationship between hotel manager Tessa and the man who has come to visit her.  And the security guard who watches it all.  To tell you anymore would be to ruin the surprise of this book, but if you are in the mood for something that will, quite seriously, provide you with All The Feelings, from fear to passion, from creeping terror to jubilation, this is the book for you!

 

WeA classic science-fiction/dystopian novel, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1921 novel (inspired by his own experiences during the Russian Revolution and Civil War) predates George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, and does it will chilling insight and stunning imagery.  But even as this book tells the story of a “world at harmony” in a totalitarian state where no one has names or individual identities, it’s also a love story.  Like all other citizens of One State, D-503 lives in a glass apartment building and is carefully watched by the secret police, or Bureau of Guardians. D-503’s lover, O-90, has been assigned by One State to visit him on certain nights.  But then, D-503 meets I-330, and his whole life is turned upside down.  And not only his life–1-330 is the leader of a revolutionary group determined to bring humanity and bird song back to the city in which she lives.  Though the results of this book aren’t specifically happy, this is a book that validates and celebrates the power of love in all its forms over and over again.  And in that way, it’s a truly powerful love story.

 

Until next month, beloved patrons–may you love all that you read!

The Romance Garden!

Well, you wouldn’t know it from looking out the window, beloved patrons, but it is most certainly calendar Spring, even if it’s not actually Spring outside.  But that is just another reason why our literary garden, filled with books about true love and changing fortunes and changing lives, intrigue and romance, is so terrific.  So join us as our genre aficionados offer you their picks for the month, and we hope you’ll find a new book (or a new genre entirely?) to savor until the warmth of the sun gets the real flowers to growing again!

Bridget: A Good Day to Marry a Duke by Betina Krahn

It isn’t often that books make me giggle out loud, but Betina Krahn’s outlandish sense of humor, and utterly delightful characters had me snickering from the first scene right up to the heartwarming finale.

Daisy Bumgarten’s disastrous debut among New York’s privileged set meant that her chances of finding a husband close to home were ruined.  So, determined to help and provide for her sisters, the plucky Nevada native sets sail to England, hoping to make a good a match as possible across the pond.  Once there, everything seems to be going to plan, and Daisy is taken under a countess’ wing and offered comprehensive lessons for a duchess-to-be.  But when the notorious Lord Ashton Graham, a distraction of the most dangerous kind, determines that Daisy’s feisty façade hides devious plans, and determines to reveal every one of them.  The two butt heads in the most dramatic–and unexpected–fashion, but when a plot threatens to show up Daisy as unworthy of the aristocracy, will Ashton be her worst detractor? Or the nobleman she needs most of all?

As much as I loved the arch humor in this book, I also loved the characters.  There were plenty of opportunities to make either Daisy or Ashton into caricatures, but they remained three-dimensional, wholly empathetic characters throughout this story.  And I adored that Daisy wasn’t afraid to call out macho posturing and covert misogyny whenever it appeared.  All in all, this was a sensational opening to Krahn’s Sin and Sensibility series, and I for one can’t wait for more!

Kelley: Hello Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

If you’re looking for a historical romance that offers something different from the norm, Lisa Kleypas’ latest entry in the “Ravenels” series is a good choice. Dr. Garrett Gibson is the only female doctor in London, and Ethan Ransom is is a former Scotland Yard detective now rumored to be involved in darker work. The two come together just as Ethan finds himself involved in an extremely risky assignment that could endanger them both. Right away, we know this book isn’t about dukes and duchesses, or earls and countesses. Instead of balls, mansions, trips to the modiste, and lives of leisure, Garrett and Ethan give readers a glimpse into a London that has dark alleys, street food, flats, and meaningful work.

Garrett believed so fully in her calling that, knowing English medical programs would not accept female students, she went to France to earn her medical degree, even though she knew that attracting patients and overcoming skepticism would be an uphill battle when she returned to London. Her profession and education lead her to live a life more typical to a man than a woman, and Ethan Ranson is drawn immediately to her courage, smarts, and individuality. Both characters are independent and deeply dedicated to their careers, but where Garrett is science-minded and practical, Ethan is passionate and poetic, and those differences prove to be the things that make them stronger together than apart.

If you’ve read previous “Ravenels” books you’ll recognize some of the supporting characters in this story, but despite their appearances in the book, Hello Stranger has a very different feel than other entries in the series. As always, Kleypas offers characters with real depth, and a story line that keeps the pages turning. Happy reading!

Until next month, dear readers, enjoy!

The Romance Garden

A Gentleman Reading In A Garden by Carl Spitzweg

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!

Bridget:
Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren

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!

Kelley:
The Rogue is Back in Town by Anna Bennett

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.

Resolve to Read: Romance Novels By Or About a Person of Color

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 UnionNo 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.

BreathlessBeverly 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 AffairSonali 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!

“But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you…”

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.

Vita and Virginia, via Letters of Note: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2013/06/a-squeal-of-pain.html

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.

Via Brakinpickings: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/07/28/virginia-woolf-vita-sackville-west/

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.

 

Those looking for more information on the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West should check out the recently-released book of their correspondence, as well as: Bloomsbury Women: Distinct Figures in Life and Art, and A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, & Virginia Woolf.  For more biographical and primary source references, check out:Vita and Harold: The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Harold NicholsonThe Letters of Virginia Woolf, and Virginia Woolf: A Portrait.


From Sackville-West to Woolf

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.

V.

*

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.

From the Teen Room!

Join our Teen Room staff as they explore the perfect picks for readers who love Valentine’s Day….and for those who don’t!

Pro-Valentine’s Day – Do you love Love? Melt over all things cute and fluffy? Well grab one of these great reads and get ready to gush!

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon – First loves and firsts of pretty much everything for Maddie who has been coaxed out of her bubble by the boy next door!

 

Anna And The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins – Your quintessential overseas teen romance with a foreign boy in the romantic city of Paris.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – A sweet story about how two eccentric teens fall in love over the course of the year.

Simon Vs. The Homo-Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – Simon is looking for the perfect boy while also trying to discover who he is inside.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green – Probably his only book that won’t make you cry and it’s super duper cute!


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 End by 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 & Juliet by William Shakespeare – Spoiler alert, it doesn’t end well.

Looking For Alaska by 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 Bible by 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 Heights by Emily Bronte – Heathcliff: The benchmark for all revenge-obsessed lovers in literature

The Romance Garden!

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!

Reading in the Garden. Susan Ricker Knox

Bridget:

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!

Kelley:

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!