Amanda Diehl

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Author Olivia Dade returns with the highly anticipated third installment in her Spoiler Alert series, Ship Wrecked, an opposites-attract romance that begins with a one-night stand.

Sociable, lively Swedish actor Maria Ivarsson and reserved Wisconsinite Peter Reedton share a steamy night together, after which Maria sneaks out while Peter is asleep. Neither thought they’d ever see each other again, but they’re abruptly reunited when they both land a role on “Gods of the Gates,” an epic fantasy TV show. Their chemistry in the bedroom definitely translates on screen, but old baggage also bubbles up during their scenes together. Maria’s actions tapped into Peter’s long-held insecurities, and even though she regrets leaving the way she did, he would rather just move on. Peter’s not about to ruin both of their acting careers by airing out their dirty laundry on set, so they work together as amicably as possible—for six whole years. But as the show approaches its final episode, their pent-up feelings begin to resurface. Can Peter and Maria walk away a second time? 

Ship Wrecked is quite the slow-burn romance, given that its central couple keep each other at a professional arm’s length for over half a decade. Maria wants to make things up to Peter but worries that doing so will reveal the depths of her attraction to him, which never fades. As they settle into a cordial working relationship that slowly evolves into a friendship, they realize how well they complement each other. The affable and brash Maria gets Peter out of his shell, and Peter, who is an absolute sweetheart and a true cinnamon roll, provides a calm shelter where Maria can rest. It’s particularly lovely to see Dade’s passion for promoting body diversity in romance extend to a male character, an area in which the genre still has a lot of room for improvement.  

This rom-com definitely emphasizes the “com,” with Dade’s trademark blend of nerdy love, sexy banter and comedic shenanigans, but there’s still space for more serious notes, such as Peter’s and Maria’s individual struggles with the mental and emotional toll of being in the spotlight. Ship Wrecked is a charming, tender exploration of acceptance, celebrity and getting a second chance to make a lasting and loving impression.

In Olivia Dade’s charming, sexy Ship Wrecked, a one-night stand leads to a six-year slow-burn romance.
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Katee Robert’s Wicked Beauty, the third installment in her extremely popular Dark Olympus series, is a modern feminist reimagining of the Iliad‘s Helen, Achilles and Patroclus. 

In the previous two novels, Robert introduced readers to her version of Olympus, a glamorous city where the names of the 13 major Greek gods are titles that are either won or inherited. While the first two books in the series portrayed iconic mythological couples like Hades and Persephone, Wicked Beauty breaks with tradition to pair Helen of Troy with Achilles and Patroclus as all three characters compete to become the new Ares, the commander of Olympus’ army.

As second in command in Athena’s elite band of warriors, Achilles is a top contender to win the role of Ares. Patroclus, his best friend and lover, doesn’t have any desire to take the title, but he’s all too happy to join the games for the sole purpose of helping Achilles win. They’re self-assured and just the right amount of smarmy, which makes it doubly satisfying to watch their confidence falter when Helen enters the competition.

Helen has been a pawn in Olympus’ power struggles for her entire life, and she is over it. She’s struggled to get out from under the thumb of her manipulative ex, Paris, and is on the verge of being married off for political gain by her brother, who recently became the new Zeus. If she wins the title of Ares, she’ll finally be free to make her own mark on the world. Everyone doubts her, thinking she’s nothing more than a pretty face, and there are plenty of fist-pumping moments as she uses that doubt to gain the upper hand.

Wicked Beauty is an absolutely scorching, off-the-charts steamy romance. The combination of cutthroat action and sexual tension makes this book a fast-paced, unrelenting page turner. As the contest grows deadlier, it becomes clear that someone is out to permanently eliminate Helen. When Achilles’ and Patroclus’ protective instincts kick in, they add rocket fuel to both their relationship with Helen and the increasingly adrenaline-pumping competition. 

Readers should prepare for a luxurious, sinfully delightful experience that they’ll try but fail to savor—because it’s all but impossible to put Wicked Beauty down.

Katee Robert's Wicked Beauty is a scorching romance that reimagines Helen, Achilles and Patroclus in a polyamorous relationship.
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A fake relationship is on the menu in Natalie Caña’s debut, A Proposal They Can’t Refuse, which follows a passionate chef and a whiskey distiller as they plot to save their business while outsmarting their grandfathers. It’s an enemies-to-lovers romance with a heaping spoonful of meddling families.

Talented chef Kamilah Vega feels held back at her family’s Puerto Rican restaurant, El Coquí. Their customer base has been dwindling, and Kamilah thinks that modernizing the restaurant and getting it on the upcoming Fall Foodie Tour is just the thing to breathe new life into the business. Her grandfather, the restaurant’s owner, gives Kamilah the green light on one condition: He wants her to marry his best friend’s grandson, Liam Kane. 

Liam’s grandfather’s dying wish is to see his grandson married, and he’s not above concocting a bit of blackmail to nudge Liam along. Liam works for his family’s Irish whiskey distillery, which shares a building with El Coqun. And if Liam doesn’t get married to Kamilah, his grandfather will sell the building that houses their businesses. Once childhood friends, Liam and Kamilah’s relationship severely soured as they became adults. But now they are united with a common goal: fake their way through a romance until they can figure out a Plan B.

Liam and Kamilah are wonderful, prickly fun together, especially when they’re bickering (which is most of the time). They gamely play along with their grandfathers’ outlandish demands, and it becomes increasingly obvious that there’s some lingering fondness under their antagonism. As the two rediscover their old friendship, Caña fills the world around them with nosy relatives, opinionated friends and plenty of workplace hijinks. No detail is spared when it comes to describing Kamilah’s bright, flavorful creations in the kitchen or the heady and luxurious ways whiskey is distilled and consumed. Foodie romances are having a moment, and A Proposal They Can’t Refuse is a particularly delicious addition to the trend. Be prepared to get hungrier and hungrier with each page. 

A Proposal They Can’t Refuse is a mouthwatering delight with a lively and winsome cast, snappy banter, cooking as foreplay and two romantic leads worth rooting for every step of the way. The only thing readers will be left longing for is a corresponding cookbook or cocktail guide.

A Proposal They Can't Refuse is a mouthwatering delight with cooking as foreplay and two romantic leads worth rooting for every step of the way.
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After years of growing his increasingly passionate fanbase with independent and digital-first novels, Alexis Hall achieved mainstream popularity—and hit the bestseller list—in 2020 with the witty London-set rom-com, Boyfriend Material. The equally successful Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake followed a year later, and now the British author is conquering historical romance with A Lady for a Duke.

Being presumed dead after fighting in the Battle of Waterloo gave Viola Carroll the chance to live as the woman she has always been, but it came at the cost of her best friend. Two years later, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood, is still devastated by Viola’s supposed death and has become a recluse. Viola travels to his estate to try and help him, even though doing so could destroy the new life she’s built. We talked to Hall about the thorny questions that come with writing about queer characters in a historical setting and why he’s such a prolific author. (A Lady for a Duke is his second release in 2022, with two more to come!)

It’s been a busy few years! Do you ever sleep?
Well, I don’t sleep much, and I have no social life. I kind of joke about this, but it’s genuinely not sustainable for me. Basically, because the market changed quite a lot and quite quickly in terms of how receptive people are to queer romance, this is sort of the first time in my career that these kinds of opportunities have been possible for me. So I did what any reasonably neurotic person would have done and said yes to everything. Which does mean my life is temporarily on hold. I’m hoping to get to a more sensible pace in a year or two.

Are you a fastidious organizer when it comes to drafting or is it a more chaotic process?
This feels like a nonanswer but sort of both? The answer I usually give to the plotter versus pantser question is that it fails to take into account that pretty much all books go through multiple drafts and you need to use different techniques at different parts of the process. Like, I’ll usually have an outline for the first draft, but then the first draft is itself kind of the outline for the second draft. And there have been books that have looked, in their final form, quite similar to how they looked when they started, but there are others that are almost unrecognizable. So I guess I’m organized when I need to be organized and chaotic when I need to be chaotic. To be fair, I’m sometimes also chaotic when I need to be organized.

“It was important to me . . . that neither the text nor really anyone in the text should meaningfully question that Viola is a woman.”

A Lady for a Duke takes place after the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, which Viola fought in and after which she was presumed dead. Why did you choose to make Waterloo the pivotal turning point in her life?
Firstly, and most simply, Waterloo is a big, iconic, central feature of the Regency, and I wanted to engage with it in a meaningful way. It was kind of one of the most devastating military conflicts that Europe had ever seen, so that feels . . . significant? Otherwise, it would be like setting a book in 1916 and never mentioning the First World War.

The other reason is a bit more narratively focused. It was important to me from very early on in the conception of the book that neither the text nor really anyone in the text should meaningfully question that Viola is a woman because, frankly, I don’t think anyone benefits from fiction legitimizing that particular “debate.” And so that meant I needed Viola to have transitioned and to be comfortable in her identity from the moment she arrived on page. In that context, Waterloo gives depth to the life she lived and the choices she made in the past, while providing a source of conflict between her and Gracewood that’s not related to her gender identity.

Viola’s first interactions with Justin are some of the most emotionally fraught moments in the entire book. How did you ensure the poignancy of these moments without slowing down the pace?
I always feel bad about these crafty kinds of questions because I feel like people are expecting a more insightful answer than I actually have. I mean, the short answer is “I don’t know, and I suspect some readers will think I didn’t.”

But I think some of it, partially, is just trusting my audience. One of the hardest (and most freeing) things about writing genre romance is that people recognize that the emotions are the plot. I mean, you can have other plots as well, but it’s not like you’re ever going to get a romance reader saying, “Nothing happened in this book except some people got together, where are the explosions?”

Read our starred review of ‘A Lady for a Duke.’

How is writing about queer love in the Regency era different from writing a contemporary queer romance?
In some respects, it isn’t. The philosophy I tend to take about writing in a historical setting is to keep clear sight of the fact that I’m still a modern writer writing a modern book for a modern audience. And how far I’ll steer into that will vary quite a lot. For example, my other Regency series is unabashedly, absurdly modern in pretty much all of its sensibilities, and some readers don’t like that, and that’s fine. But I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with writing historical fiction like A Knight’s Tale instead of The Lion in Winter.

That said, I think there are some decisions you have to make consciously that, in contemporary fiction, you’re allowed to make unconsciously. Readers often have quite specific expectations about how being LGBTQ+ should be presented in a historical setting, and those aren’t always expectations I’m going to agree with or play into.

I think one of the more subtle questions it’s important to address in writing a queer love story in a historical environment is whether you are going to use modern perceptions of identity or, as best you can, historical perceptions of identity. On the one hand, it is correct to say that relationships and experiences that we would today attach specific labels to have always existed. But, on the other hand, neither those labels nor the often quite complex set of assumptions that go with those labels would have made sense to people in a historical setting.

My general take comes back to what I said about keeping in mind that I’m writing for a modern audience. It’s ultimately more important to me that my queer stories resonate with modern queer readers than it is for them to portray what I think a person at the time might actually have perceived their identity to be. Not least because that’s unknowable.

“One of the hardest (and most freeing) things about writing genre romance is that people recognize that the emotions are the plot.”

A Lady for a Duke

Both the cover model for Viola and the audiobook narrator of A Lady for a Duke are trans women. Why was it important to you to involve trans women in the process of bringing this book to life? And how did you feel the first time you saw its gorgeous cover?
Who can represent whom and in what media is a complex question that doesn’t necessarily have clear generalizable answers. For example, I’m not sure I could readily articulate why I felt it was important to have a trans woman narrating Viola (or why I tend to feel that it’s important to have POC voice actors narrating books with POC protagonists) but haven’t felt so strongly about having voice actors who match the identities of my gay or bisexual characters. I’m also deeply aware that this isn’t a topic that I have authority to pontificate on, and in many ways I am just kind of guided by instinct. For what it’s worth, I do have another book (The Affair of the Mysterious Letter) in which the trans male narrator was portrayed by a cis man in the audiobook because, at the time, I couldn’t find a British trans man to do it. Ultimately I think that was an acceptable second best, and the voice actor did a great job, but I think I’d have felt bad if I could have had a trans voice actor for A Lady for a Duke but gave the job to a cis person anyway.

One of the things I wanted to do with A Lady for a Duke (and I’m far from the first person to do it) is to contribute to the normalization of trans people within romance in general and historical romance in particular. And perhaps I’m wrong, but I hope having Violet looking gorgeous as Viola on the cover and Kay Eluvian doing a fantastic job narrating the audiobook helps to communicate that trans people belong here as much as cis people do.

And yes, the cover is perfect and I love it.

Tell us about the research you did for this book. What did you learn that surprised you?

The first thing I’d say is that it’s worth remembering that the Regency is an incredibly tiny bit of history both spatially and temporally. Like, not only did it cover just nine years of actual time (1811–1820), but if we’re talking about the specific community that people are usually talking about when they’re talking about the Regency, we’re talking about the 10,000 richest people in England. And, in fact, if you narrow it down to the subset of people that historical romance tends to focus on (which is to say, dukes and people who directly interacted with dukes), you’re getting into the low hundreds.

On top of that, there’s the broader issue that I’ve loosely touched on already, which is that the language we use to describe LGBTQ+ identities and experiences in the present day only really applies to the present day. So, for example, we do know a certain amount about molly houses, which were brothels/social clubs in the late 18th century (which, honestly, were kind of fading out by the Regency) where men would go to have sex with each other, sometimes cross-dress and sometimes do sham weddings and even sham births. But none of that can necessarily be assumed to map onto any specific identity as we understand it today.

“I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with writing historical fiction like A Knight’s Tale instead of The Lion in Winter.”

Similarly, there have always been people who have lived as a gender that is not the gender they were assigned at birth (although, obviously, the only ones we know about are the ones who were outed, either during their lives or post-mortem), but we can’t necessarily know how those individuals understood their identities. It gets particularly complex when you’re talking about people who were assigned female at birth and lived as men. Hannah Snell, for example, dressed as a man to fight in a war but afterward told her own story in a way that very strongly framed her as a woman who had dressed as a man to fight in a war. But there are also people like Dr. James Barry who lived as men during their lifetimes and made it very clear that they wanted to be thought of, known and remembered as men after their deaths.

An ongoing problem with queer history in general and trans history in particular is you can’t prove how a person really thought about themselves, and mainstream culture tends to demand a very high burden of proof. Dr. James Barry is a really good example. Here we have a man who lived as a man, explicitly stated he was a man and wanted to be remembered as a man, but most of his biographies present him as a woman who cross-dressed to access privileged male spheres. And while I’m not a historian, as a human being my personal feeling is that if someone says they’re a man, you should, like, believe them.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing A Lady for a Duke?
In any romance book, you need an emotional nadir of some kind, because otherwise the journey toward the happily ever after can feel like it lacks stakes or tension. This usually happens at 70% into the story, but that didn’t feel right for this book.

I knew the main source of conflict was going to be what happened at Waterloo, but the idea of having that hanging over the book, the characters and the reader for 200 to 300 pages was just super grim. Viola and Gracewood also have a lot to work through both personally and socially, and I didn’t think I’d be able to squoosh that into the last third of the book. All of which meant that I actually hit the emotional nadir at about (spoiler) 30% or 40%. And because of that change in structure, it took some finessing to make sure the rest of the book still felt like it had something to say and the characters had somewhere to go.

What have you been reading lately?
I recently read a phenomenal contemporary rom-com called The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann. It’s kind of a riff on My Best Friend’s Wedding, but it centralizes two asexual characters who are navigating their complicated relationship with each other while falling in love with other people. The heroine, Joy, is an absolute joy. And I think it’s just one of the most romantic books I’ve ever read.

I also loved The Stand-In by Lily Chu, another contemporary rom-com. This one has a zany “Oh, you look exactly like a famous film star” premise, but it’s actually incredibly grounded and tender, exploring the importance of all kinds of relationships, not just romantic ones.

Oh, and Siren Queen by Nghi Vo is breathtakingly good. It’s a magical, dark fairy-tale take on pre-code Hollywood about a queer Asian American film star who makes a name for herself playing monsters, since she won’t faint, do an accent or take a maid role. It’s incredibly intense but, at its heart, exquisitely kind. One of those books you feel genuinely humbled to have read.

We spoke with Alexis Hall, master of the contemporary rom-com, about what it was like to take on the Regency era in A Lady for a Duke.
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Following the Battle of Waterloo, Viola Carroll abandoned her previous identity, as well as her aristocratic title, to finally embrace life as a trans woman. Allowing the world to believe she had been killed in action, Viola took on the role of companion to her sister-in-law, Lady Louise Marleigh.

But Viola’s dearest friend, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood, is not coping so well. He drowns himself in alcohol and opium to cope with his despair over Viola’s death, the lingering pain of a war injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Louise determines that she and Viola must intervene, and so they travel to Gracewood’s ancestral home, Castle Morgencald.

The term “slow burn” doesn’t begin to capture the agonized pining of this romance, which is absolutely suffused with yearning. Hall poignantly depicts Viola’s tangled mix of relief and sadness upon being reunited with Gracewood. Viola has nurtured a quiet hope that their connection to each other would be undeniable—that Gracewood would know and accept her without a second’s thought. But if he doesn’t, she agonizes over telling him that she’s the friend he’s long thought dead, knowing that revealing her identity could ruin the new life she’s built for herself. Some of the most emotionally fraught scenes in the novel are when Hall focuses on Gracewood’s inner turmoil, empathetically portraying a once powerful, nearly untouchable man who is overwhelmed by trauma.

How Alexis Hall is seizing his moment.

Hall adds some levity with flirtatious banter between his main couple, moments when readers can see the dark cloud hovering over Gracewood become a little lighter. There’s also a robust and interesting cast of side characters, which could mean (fingers crossed) A Lady for a Duke is but the first book in a series.

Hall first hit the bestseller list in 2020 with Boyfriend Material, a contemporary rom-com, and his fanbase has been growing ever since. Now that the British writer has hit it out of the park with this emotionally resonant, character-driven Regency romance, readers’ biggest question (besides “Is there anything Alexis Hall can’t do?”) will be “What will Alexis Hall think of next?” No matter what it is, it’ll be nuanced, swoony and a stellar example of what romance can do—just like A Lady for a Duke.

Alexis Hall takes on the Regency with his angsty new historical romance, A Lady for a Duke.
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Hugo Award winner T. Kingfisher’s Nettle & Bone is a dark, feminist fantasy that follows an unlikely heroine as she takes matters into her own hands to free her sister and other women from a cyclical system of abuse.

Princess Marra is shy and seemingly forgettable, content with being sent to a convent rather than married off for political gain. But when she learns of the death of her oldest sister, Damia, most likely at the hands of her husband, Prince Vorling, Marra worries that her other sister, Kania, will suffer the same fate. She’s destined to be Vorling’s second wife, after all.

Embarking on a quest to save what remains of her family, Marra turns to the dust-wife, a necromancer whose familiar is a demon-possessed chicken. The dust-wife tasks Marra with building a dog of bones, sewing a cloak of nettles and capturing moonlight in a jar. As Marra attempts to accomplish the impossible, she slowly assembles a team worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster montage. First, there’s Bonedog, whose creation occurs in the first chapter, an instantly gripping flash-forward to Marra midquest. Then there’s Agnes, Marra’s neurotic fairy godmother whose abilities are limited to granting good health. Rounding out the group is Fenris, a diplomatic knight who seems to have a bit of a death wish.

Fans of Kingfisher’s Saint of Steel trilogy will recognize her trademark blend of bleak world building and an affable cast of underdog characters. Marra’s evolution is an inspiration. She becomes a more confident version of herself as she works to save her sister, and then expands her mission once she realizes that if her vengeance remains focused on just Prince Vorling, it will leave many more women still in danger. But while Nettle & Bone is undeniably dark and sinister at times, Kingfisher balances the horror with well-placed levity. Any road trip is instantly made better by a demonic chicken, and who wouldn’t love a curious, energetic dog to tag along, even if he is made of bones? The more comedic characters allow readers to find comfort amid the larger, darker scope of the novel, bright spots in a world that can often feel hopeless.

Kingfisher is an inventive fantasy powerhouse, and Nettle & Bone represents the burgeoning “hopepunk” ethos at its finest, with its winsome characters and focus on their fight to make the world a better place.

Nettle & Bone is the burgeoning “hopepunk” ethos at its finest: a dark fantasy starring a demon-possessed chicken and a feminist avenger.
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New York Times bestselling author Emily Henry (Beach Read, People We Meet on Vacation) returns with Book Lovers, in which an ambitious literary agent’s summer trip takes an unexpected turn when she’s stuck in a small town with her professional nemesis.

Nora Stephens is known for her cutthroat drive and the dogged devotion to her clients and their manuscripts. There’s really only one person who can get through her tough exterior, and that’s her younger sister, Libby. When Libby proposes a sisters’ trip to the small town of Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, Nora acquiesces. Once there, Nora is surprised to run into book editor Charlie Lastra, a man she’s deeply disliked ever since he ruthlessly turned down one of her books. Apparently, Charlie is a Sunshine Falls native, and he seems different than Nora remembers from their encounters in New York City. He’s not the abrupt editor that spurned her before; he’s actually charming, which Nora finds particularly infuriating.

Henry excels at writing introspective, heroine-focused romance, and she uses the character of Nora to dismantle the stereotypical “career woman” archetype: the cold, ambitious person who sacrifices relationships for the sake of her job and often stands in the way of a more conventionally “feminine” woman’s happiness. But in Book Lovers, Nora doesn’t have to change her driven nature to find a partner who appreciates her. While Charlie is a real softie at heart, he still celebrates Nora’s desire to excel. He understands her professional ambitions, because he harbors similar ones himself.

Emily Henry wants justice for the “Big City Woman.”

And while Sunshine Falls’ small-town charm does eventually win Nora over, the most significant result of her letting her guard down is not so much her relationship with Charlie so much as it’s the reaffirmation of her love for her sister. Nora deeply cares for Libby, and as the trip goes on, Nora begins to sense that something is amiss. Their sisterly affection is a sweet delight to witness, an unconditional and supportive love that Henry celebrates just as much as Nora’s romance with Charlie.

Is it possible for Henry to write a romance that doesn’t glitter with pithy banter or that isn’t filled with characters you want to root for? So far, the answer is no. As the title suggests, readers who love meta “books about books” will delight in the details of Nora’s and Charlie’s occupations and their passion for reading. But Book Lovers is also a wonderful examination of work-life balance, the intricacies of family relationships and the realization that you shouldn’t have to compromise yourself for love.

A delightful romance that both dismantles and celebrates the “career woman” archetype, Book Lovers cements Emily Henry's status as one of the best rom-com writers around.
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Romance readers fell in love with India Holton’s madcap and magical version of Victorian England in her debut, The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels. Now, she’s back with more daring witches, dashing pirates and flying houses in The League of Gentlewomen Witches, which follows Charlotte Pettifer, a witch who will one day take over as leader of the titular society, as she teams up with pirate Alex O’Reilly to recover a powerful amulet. We talked to Holton about which fictional witches she would want in her coven and what the Victorian setting allowed her to say about the power of femininity.

How does this book compare to The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels? There’s still a grand sense of adventure, but what else can returning readers expect?
The main thing returning readers will get from The League of Gentlewomen Witches is more. More action, more enemies-to-lovers romance, more tea and more explosions, in all senses of the word. The League takes the Wisteria Society experience up several degrees! Also, the literary allusions focus on Jane Austen this time, which seemed appropriate for my feisty Charlotte and fierce (but rather nonplussed) Alex. 

“I’ve always felt that bookish, introverted and sensitive women can be just as powerful as the warrior type . . .”

Your world is so inventive and fun! What were your inspirations? Was there anything specific you wanted to change about the Victorian period? Why did you decide to blend history and fantasy?
My inspirations for the world were honestly right out of my own head. But I was also influenced by the fun, madcap energy of old rom-com movies and TV shows. 

I chose a historical setting because the things I wanted to say about women were really emphasised by a Victorian milieu, rather than an imaginary world. For example, I’ve always felt that bookish, introverted and sensitive women can be just as powerful as the warrior type, given an opportunity. By placing my heroines in a time period in which women were constrained to be ladylike (“the angel of the house”), I could explore this more easily. So it wasn’t so much about changing the Victorian period as using what it offered for my purpose. Although the books offer light fun, at their heart is a contemplation of how we as a culture view women—and indeed men, too—and how that can harmfully influence their relationships with themselves, as well as with others.  

Do you have any tips on balancing romance with action?
An action-filled plot is a wonderful opportunity to bring two characters together in the forced proximity of a shared problem. But if they have different ideas about solving that problem, or different goals, therein lies the tension. The conflict between them reflects the conflict that incites the action. Also, tying the momentum of their personal relationship to that of the overarching plot provides continual opportunities to address the romance, even while things are exploding all around them. 

The League of Gentlewomen Witches feels a bit spicier than its predecessor. Was that a conscious decision on your part or just where Charlotte and Alex’s journey took you?
My very first glimpse of this story was a scene that included them fighting, then kissing in the rain. I became absorbed in the intensity between the characters and actually developed the entire plot around this one moment. So it didn’t really surprise me that Charlotte and Alex demanded more heat than Wisteria’s Cecilia and Ned.  

If you designed your own magical, moveable house, what details would be essential?
First and foremost, plenty of bookshelves! Also, a comfortable chair in front of the wheel, set high enough that I could see out the window, since I am very short. And a rooftop deck, with good fencing around it because I’m scared of heights! 

Read our review: “The League of Gentlewomen Witches” by India Holton

If you could cast your own League of Gentlewomen Witches, which famous witches (fictional or historical) would you include in your magical girl gang?
Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle, Samantha Stephens from “Bewitched,” and Nanny Ogg and Agnes Nitt from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. (Not Granny Weatherwax—she’d take over in the worst way.)  

What can we expect next from the Dangerous Damsels series?
I don’t want to say just yet who will be featured in book three; I want to see if readers can guess. But I’m so very excited to share their story, because I fell in love at first sight with both characters. It involves one of my favorite tropes: fake marriage. It also includes rivals-to-lovers, forbidden love and only one bed, of course! 

What are you reading and loving right now?
I’m in the middle of Two Wrongs Make a Right by Chloe Liese, which is a truly delightful rom-com due out this fall. And I’ve also started If You Ask Me by Libby Hubscher, which is a charming, hilarious rom-com.

Photo of India Holton courtesy of the author.

The whimsical romance-fantasy-historical fiction mashup of your dreams returns.
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In The League of Gentlewomen Witches, India Holton returns to the Dangerous Damsels, her magical romp of a series complete with flying houses, adventuring pirates and tenacious witches. In this fast-paced enemies-to-lovers romance, a witch destined to take over a secret society teams up with a roguish pirate captain to recover a stolen amulet.

Charlotte Pettifer is a descendent of the famed Beryl Black, founder of the Wicken League, which fosters the talents of both young and experienced witches. It’s Charlotte’s birthright to lead the league, just like her ancestor, and she’s always thought that her destiny was also her dream job. But a treasure-hunting pirate makes her reconsider her future. When Beryl Black’s long-lost amulet resurfaces, Captain Alex O’Riley sets out to claim it—and so does Charlotte, by stowing away on Alex’s flying house.

India Holton reveals which fictional sorceresses she’d want in her own coven.

Close quarters turn Charlotte and Alex’s rapid-fire banter into a sort of foreplay, but despite their mutual antagonism, their romance skews more toward the sweet and heartwarming end of the spectrum. The dashing, daring Alex provides the perfect foil for buttoned-up and duty-bound Charlotte. It’s not exactly a grumpy-meets-sunshine pairing—more like a stuffy character falling for a free-spirited one. Alex oozes charm; he already made a grand first impression in Holton’s debut, The Wisteria Society for Lady Scoundrels, and he will further secure his spot in readers’ hearts here. They will immediately understand why Charlotte is envious of Alex’s freedom, especially as the weight of becoming the head of the Wicken League looms over her. His very existence and infectious spontaneity make Charlotte waver on her commitment to the league. Can she really live the life she wants while also fully committing to the role of leader?

Holton takes readers on a wild ride through a fun, limitless world, where frivolity and whimsy reign supreme and skilled swordwork and grand displays of magic abound. It’s all a hodgepodge of delightful silliness, with over-the-top action, exaggerated villainy and the fact that it’s possible to fall in love with your sworn enemy while recovering an ancient amulet. Think Mel Brooks meets The Princess Bride with a dash of Austen-esque comedy of manners. And then crank that all up to 11.

It’s impossible to know where the series will go next, but after finishing The League of Gentlewomen Witches, readers will be completely on board for more of Holton’s imaginative, rollicking romances.

Mel Brooks meets The Princess Bride, with a dash of Austen-esque comedy of manners, in India Holton’s imaginative, rollicking romance.
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★ Delilah Green Doesn’t Care

Children’s and young adult author Ashley Herring Blake makes her adult debut with Delilah Green Doesn’t Care, a queer small-town romance between—let’s be frank—two total babes who are most certainly worthy of their swoony whirlwind of a love story.

Delilah Green has no desire to return home to Bright Falls, Oregon; the tiny town is full of painful memories of a childhood spent feeling abandoned and isolated by her stepfamily. But when her estranged stepsister, Astrid, offers Delilah a large paycheck to photograph her wedding, Delilah finds herself back in Bright Falls for the first time in years. She hopes to get the trip over as soon as possible, but then she reunites with Claire Sutherland, a single mom who runs the local bookstore. Delilah recalls Claire being one of Astrid’s pretentious, “mean girl” friends, but she’s matured into a warm, kind and all-too-alluring woman. 

This tender story of growth and change is about becoming a person your younger self can be proud of. Delilah and Claire’s connection starts as a sexy sort of antagonism, an attraction they just can’t get out from under their skin, but it soon blossoms into a wild vulnerability neither expected. Blake’s impressive talent is on display on every page, especially when it comes to tracking the evolution of her central couple’s relationship. Romance readers are sure to welcome her (and Delilah) with open arms. 

Love at First Spite

An interior designer and an architect work together to build the perfect revenge in Anna E. Collins’ Love at First Spite.

Dani Porter’s already gotten mad about her cheating fiancé. Now, she wants to get even. When a vacant lot opens up next to her ex’s house, the place where they were supposed to live happily ever after, she quickly snatches it up. Her plan? Build an Airbnb right next door to block his beautiful view. To help with the project, she hires Wyatt Montego, a grumpy architect who works at her design firm. Their personalities immediately clash, but they soon find their groove within the large-scale project, moving from strangers to friends to something more. 

Given how much time and emotion she invested in her last relationship, only to then have her trust completely shattered, Dani is wary of love. And Wyatt is hiding his own sensitivities beneath his terse, stuffy exterior. The renovation and design elements provide the story’s foundation, giving Dani and Wyatt’s slow-burning chemistry plenty of opportunities to sizzle. This is a sweet story of healing after heartbreak, finding your person and debating the wrong and right ways to eat a sandwich.

If You Love Something

Some romances aren’t about finding something new, but rebuilding and reclaiming something you’ve lost. DeShawn and Malik Franklin haven’t seen each other in years and, as far as they know, they’ve been divorced for just as long. 

DeShawn is a successful executive chef in the Washington, D.C., area, but his comfortable lifestyle gets shaken up by one phone call from his dear grandmother. She reveals that she has cancer, she won’t be seeking treatment and she’s finalizing her will and plans to leave half of her estate to Malik, with whom she is still very close. But, there was a mix-up with DeShawn and Malik’s divorce paperwork: They’re still married.

When DeShawn’s uncle contests the will, DeShawn agrees to pretend that he and Malik are back together, hoping the ruse plus the fact that they are still technically married will make it easier for Malik to fight for his rightful share. But once they reunite, old problems and even older attractions emerge. 

Fans who love a bit of family drama in their romances, as well as some fake dating (between spouses!), will tear through Jayce Ellis’ endearing If You Love Something. DeShawn and Malik are clearly the right person for each other—they just met at the wrong time. Ellis shows how both men have worked on themselves and grown in order to become better romantic partners. If You Love Something will give you all the warm and fuzzy feelings.

Perfecting the rom-com is no easy feat. But these authors have cracked the code. Their satisfying romances boast heaping doses of lightness and humor, as well as some perfectly deployed and fan-friendly genre tropes.
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In romance, the teaching occupation transcends time and subgenres. Reasoning with a kid, whether it’s a toddler or a teen, can require some unshakeable persistence, and the teacher heroines of these two romances are patient, empathetic and just a bit stubborn. It’s no wonder that when faced with these determined women, two guarded heroes finally take a chance on love.

The latest installment in Marie Harte’s Turn Up the Heat series, Hot for You, finds multiple meanings in the phrase “hot for teacher” as a love-shy firefighter meets a charming teacher and her daughter amid disastrous circumstances. 

Firefighter Reggie Morgan first encounters Maggie Swanson when she’s lying unconscious on the side of the road. Minutes earlier, Maggie and her 6-year-old daughter, Emily, had stopped to rescue a stray puppy, and the young teacher was clipped by a passing car. When Reggie responds to the hit-and-run call, he finds a distraught girl, one ugly dog and a woman in need of medical attention. 

Maggie’s injuries aren’t serious, but thanks to a fracture, her dominant arm has to be in a sling for several weeks. Reggie can’t help but check up on her, which puts him at risk of breaking his personal rules about avoiding serious romantic relationships. Maggie, on the other hand, is quickly and uncomplicatedly attracted to Reggie. After all, he made quite an impressive knight in shining armor, and Emily and Reggie get on like a house on fire. But Maggie senses there is something beneath the affable firefighter’s exterior that holds him back. 

Reggie is an attentive and kind hero whose previous relationship with another single mother ended with him nursing a seriously broken heart. Maggie slowly coaxes him to trust her and their feelings for each other, giving this tender love story an emotionally resonant arc as Reggie learns to be vulnerable again. As an added bonus, Harte throws some wonderful puppy hijinks into the mix of this sizzling and sweet contemporary romance.

Author Anna Bennett offers a Regency take on the teacher heroine and kicks off a new series with Girls Before Earls, an angsty historical romance between a headmistress and a slightly curmudgeonly earl.

Gabriel “Blade” Beckett, Earl of Bladenton, has had it with his teenage niece and ward, Kitty, who has been kicked out of several schools. His attention is firmly set on making an advantageous match in London, and Kitty’s scandalous behaviour is driving him to distraction. He hopes to find her another school, far away from his life and London, and sets his sights on the seaside Bellehaven Academy.

Hazel Lively, the headmistress of Bellehaven, has settled into her spinsterhood (she’s practically ancient, having reached her late 20s) and dreams of turning her struggling school into a success. Hazel and Blade immediately lock horns when he arrives to enroll Kitty in Bellehaven, as Hazel correctly senses that Kitty is acting out because of her distant relationship with her uncle. Hazel declares that she’ll agree to admit Kitty on one condition: Blade must visit every two weeks. 

That two-week space between encounters places Girls Before Earls firmly in the delicious slow burn category. Readers who love a bit of banter and antagonism between the leads will especially love this romance, as Hazel and Blade are natural opposites with diametrically different approaches to life. Hazel is a dreamer who wants to nurture the minds of young women and help them on their paths to greatness. Meanwhile, Blade is pragmatic and dry, with a mind for business and structure. Bennett keeps the relational momentum going with each new scene Hazel and Blade share and with every obstacle they need to overcome. It’s quite the uphill battle to happily ever after, but despite her lofty ideals, Hazel is a tenacious force to be reckoned with. Blade may be stubborn, but he never stood a chance against a headmistress who dedicates her time to teenage girls.

Bennett knocks it out of the park while also setting up plenty of opportunities for side characters to get their own love story in future installments. The entertaining Girls Before Earls is an utter delight until the very last page.

Two teacher heroines give their respective heroes lessons in love.

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