Following her stellar debut,The Widow of Rose House, Diana Biller returns with The Brightest Star in Paris, a stunning novel of tender emotions amid harsh circumstances.
This Victorian romance is set in 1878 France, seven years after the horrific events of the siege of Paris and the Paris Commune. It’s an unusual setting for a romance, full of great strife and turmoil, and Biller provides readers with a fabulous immersion into that place and time.
Amelie St. James is a prima ballerina with the Paris Opera Ballet, regularly dancing lead roles at the opulent Palais Garnier. Beloved by Parisians, she has adopted a pious and sweet public persona, earning the nickname “St. Amie.” Life has taught her to keep a tight hold on her emotions and strive to be perfect at everything she does. Amelie is compelling as both her public and private selves, and Biller thoroughly explores her inner thoughts and worries over earning a living by dancing, managing the debilitating pain in her hip, taking care of her 11-year-old sister and stuffing the grief and anger at her mother’s death from syphilis deep down into her heart.
But hidden behind Amelie’s public persona is a chilling truth: She is haunted by spirits, just like her mother was. The ghosts bring Amelie pain and trouble, but they also provide her with a sense of purpose and confidence in helping others. The subplot of the ghosts’ lives and Amelie’s interactions with them could have thrown the entire romance off balance, but these moments are superbly depicted, whether she is healing one ghost’s relationship with their mother or bringing justice to a dancer Amelie knew when she was alive.
Amelie’s delicate balance between her public and private selves is threatened by the return of Dr. Benedict Moore, a gifted neurologist with whom she had a brief but meaningful romance 12 years ago. Ben almost died of malaria during the American Civil War and was still dealing with PTSD when he met Amelie. She brought him back from the dark despair he had sunk into, and he has never forgotten her. Now that he is back in Paris for a conference, the tender feelings between them are rekindled.
While The Brightest Star in Paris is more focused on Amelie’s inner journey than Ben’s, Biller is such a skilled storyteller that readers will feel deeply for both protagonists as she beautifully unfurls this delicate second-chance romance. Ben is uncomplicatedly and wholly in love with Amelie, whereas Amelie is continually conflicted. On one hand, she loves him immensely, yet she feels she does not deserve his love and the happiness it brings. Furthermore, her mother’s life as a courtesan has taught her that she must keep on striving independently rather than lean on a man for support. Ultimately, The Brightest Star in Paris is the story of how St. Amie transforms back into Amelie, a woman free to choose the life she wants.
In the gorgeously written The Brightest Star in Paris, Biller provides a fascinating view into the psychological makeup of two haunted lovers.
In this gorgeously written romance, Diana Biller provides a fascinating view into the psychological makeup of two haunted lovers.
Fans of Sally MacKenzie’s Widow’s Brew series have been waiting for this moment. Jo, the widowed Lady Havenridge, has appeared in the series' previous two books as a woman who seemed to have it all figured out. The founder and leader of the Benevolent Home for the Maintenance and Support of Spinsters, Widows, and Abandoned Women and their Unfortunate Children, she has established not only a sanctuary for women and girls with nowhere else to go, but also a thriving business as the women operate their own brewery. She has work, purpose, a home and a community, but now it’s finally time for her to find love. And perhaps it’s a testament to how rare and special her situation is that love and matrimony—the longed-for prize of every young miss in Regency society—holds little appeal for her. She doesn’t actually say that she needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, but the implication is there.
However, in Cheers to the Duke, the right man is quite forcefully ushered in. Edward, the Duke of Grainger, is a solicitor from an obscure branch of the family tree who unexpectedly inherited the title (think Matthew Crawley from "Downton Abbey"). The search for a bride, someone to step into the shoes of his dearly loved first wife as Edward’s partner and mother to his young, sensitive son, has not gone well. Thrust into society’s so-called graces, he is fawned over by empty-headed debutantes with hungry eyes on his title even as they turn up their noses at his common origins. But then he’s brought together with Jo at the christening of Viscount Hurley, their mutual godchild. And by “brought together,” I mean “all but locked into a closet together by their friends who’ve decided they’re perfect for each other.” Edward is quick to agree that Jo is just what he needs—in his home, his heart and his bed. (His son, Thomas, is instantly on board as well, and in one of the sweeter moments in the story, actually proposes that Jo become his mother even before Jo and Edward officially meet.) Jo, on the other hand, is harder to convince.
In a genre as well-trod as Regency romance, there's much pleasure to be found in stories that subvert expectations, and this story (this series!) definitely accomplishes that. Rather than a society-defying rake who is tamed by love, MacKenzie features capable heroines who defy social norms and require heavy persuasion before they’ll give in to the virtues of wedded life and love. There’s no villain in the story, no rigidly disapproving family member interfering with the course of true love, no moustache-twirling scoundrel attempting to compromise or disgrace the heroine. The only roughness in the course of true love comes from the fact that Jo genuinely needs convincing that marriage is something she’d ever want, even with the perfect man. Her independence is both admirable and refreshing. The response of the other characters to that independence is . . . a bit less endearing. Like Bridget Jones, I’m not often a fan of “smug marrieds” who are convinced that no one can be both happy and single, and the other guests at the christening celebration lean a little far into that mindset. There could have been a bit less well-intentioned matchmaking, and a bit more genuine respect for Jo’s choices (there were a few too many conversations where she got steamrolled).
Still, the energy of the story is infectious, evoking the feeling of a family reunion where everyone’s truly glad to see one another. For those hoping for a happy conclusion to these characters and their adventures in brewing, the final Widow's Brew novel delivers love, laughter and libations.
Fans of Sally MacKenzie’s The Widow’s Brew series have been waiting for Jo, Lady Havenridge, to get her happily ever after, and Cheers to the Duke does not disappoint.
In Joanna Shupe’s latest romance novel, A Scandalous Deal, aspiring architect Eva Hyde has found the perfect project to establish her reputation—a glittering, luxurious hotel in New York City. But her attraction to her employer, powerful businessman Phillip Mansfield, threatens to expose her identity and ruin her carefully laid plans. Shupe’s the Four Hundred series are some of the best new books set in the Gilded Age, and follow English noblewomen as they discover the intoxicating freedom and powerful men of turn-of-the-century America.
The Gilded Age might not be as popular a time period as the Regency and Victorian eras in historical romance, but it’s been a steady subgenre for years, offering readers a less restrictive, even more ridiculously opulent setting than the ballrooms of English high society. In this guest post, Shupe told us which five books she recommends for fans of the period.
Opulence. Innovation. Corruption. America’s Gilded Age had all this and much more. I have always been fascinated by this era because it is fraught with tension and conflict—perfect for romance stories! Here are five of my favorite novels set in Gilded Age New York.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
What happens when you fall in love with a scandalous divorcée when duty and conformity are your entire world? This is the question Newland Archer must face when he meets the beautiful Countess Olenska in old New York. Wharton’s writing is divine and a true window into the high society of Mrs. Astor’s time. (When you are done with the book, go watch the Daniel Day-Lewis movie adaptation. That carriage scene . . . swoon!)
Lions and Lace by Meagan McKinney
When her wealthy family is ruined, Alana Van Alan is left on the doorstep of the man responsible, ruthless financier Trevor Sheridan, also known as the Predator. Sheridan’s Irish ancestry makes him think a Knickerbocker princess like Alana could never truly love him. The story gives some insight into the prejudices of the time, and the high society world building is outstanding. Warning, this is an old-school romance—but it’s one of my desert island keepers.
Francesca Cahill is an amateur sleuth and socialite in Old New York and she’s about to marry Calder Hart—or is she? When she gets caught up in the hunt to find a scandalous painting, her future and her relationship are suddenly threatened. This is the final book in Joyce’s Deadly mystery series. While this one was my favorite, do yourself a favor and start at the beginning of the series (Deadly Love) because each book is fantastic.
Pilar Banderas is a Cuban rebel and she needs to steal a ship. Unfortunately for Noah Yates, his ship is the one she chooses. When he wakes up from being kidnapped, he’s tied to a bed (yes!), his ship is already at sea and he vows revenge on the pirate. This story is pure delicious fun from start to finish, with a feisty heroine and unique locations like Cuba, Florida and California. When Noah called Pilar “mi pequeña pirata,” I dropped dead from the feels. This book is a must-read for anyone who loves a sword-wielding heroine.
A desperate duke comes to Gilded Age New York to marry an American heiress and save his family. Instead, he falls for a spunky-but-definitely-poor seamstress. This is the first in Rodale’s Gilded Age Girls Club series and it isn’t available until October 23, but I was lucky enough to read an early copy. The story is delightful, with plenty of Rodale’s signature witty dialogue and clever details. I devoured this American twist on the familiar duke trope.
Author Joanna Shupe recommends five romances set in turn-of-the-century America.
As a lifelong period drama devotee, historical romance is probably my favorite subgenre in all of Romancelandia. But as a history nerd, I’ve never quite understood why the Regency and Victorian eras are so very, very dominant. Don’t get me wrong—I will never say no to a good bustle, and I love Austen-esque tales as much as the next romance reader. But why isn’t there an entire genre of fast-paced, witty Roaring ’20s romances? Or love affairs within the court intrigue of Tudor England? Or, you know, more romances set anywhere other than England or America? The following list is unfortunately still Anglocentric, much like the romance genre itself, but these authors offer a place to start for those looking to move beyond the Regency or Victorian romance.
After the Regency and Victorian periods, the medieval era is probably the third most common setting in historical romance. In Ye Olde Decades Past of romance, it was a super popular period but is now mainly the territory of dashing Highlanders. Which is not at all a bad thing!
Isabel Cooper Medieval, but make it paranormal: The dashing Scottish hero of Highland Dragon Warrior is, you guessed it, a dragon shape-shifter. And if that wasn’t enough, his love interest is a Jewish alchemist. If you get hooked, Cooper also has a previous series starring the same family, centuries later.
Julie Garwood She’s currently writing romantic suspense, but longtime romance fave Garwood has an extensive backlist of acclaimed medieval romances. Start with the Highlands’ Lairds or Lairds’ Fiancées series.
Elizabeth Kingston If you’re looking for a realistic depiction of the period in both its cultural sophistication and near-constant violence, let me introduce you to the wonderful Elizabeth Kingston. Her deeply romantic Welsh Blades series takes place during the chaotic English conquest of Wales, and both books have a unique, utterly ferocious heroine.
Mary Wine Wine’s book list is almost entirely medieval and early Renaissance, and she specializes in strong-willed female characters and lushly detailed depictions of Scotland and England.
Jeannie Lin The Tang Dynasty was one of the golden ages of imperial China, and a particularly good example of how most of the world was doing just fine during what we Westerners have self-centeredly called “the Dark Ages.” Start with Butterfly Swords, where sword-wielding Princess Ai Li flees her upcoming wedding and enlists a handsome, mysterious warrior to keep her safe.
No less an authority than Terry Dresbach, the costume designer for “Outlander,” has said that the 18th century, known as the Georgian period in England, was one of the sexiest ever periods of fashion. This era comes right before the Regency but was earthier, more sex-positive and far less constrained by propriety. Which to me sounds like a recipe for a pretty great time.
Eloisa James After writing many beloved regencies, James has moved back a few decades to give us some arch, intelligent Georgian love stories. I’m partial to her current series, the Wildes of Lindow Castle, which works in the burgeoning gossip press of the era in hilarious ways, but readers also love her Desperate Duchesses books.
Elizabeth Hoyt Like Mary Wine and the medieval period, Hoyt has staked out a claim for herself as the happy queen of her particular era. Check out her Maiden Lane or Legend of the Four Soldiers series for a grittier take on Georgian England, or go to the Princes books for some upper-class romance.
The Gilded Age/Edwardian Era
As any reader of Edith Wharton knows, the Gilded Age is a particularly fantastic setting for romance (even if it tends to end in gut-wrenching heartbreak—I still haven’t forgiven Edith for what The House of Mirth did to me). The extraordinary wealth accumulated by the American upper class in this period put much of the European aristocracy to shame, and the Yanks compensated for their lack of noble titles by adhering to hilariously byzantine rules of social engagement. In other words, everyone was very sexually repressed and looked super hot all the time.
Joanna Shupe Shupe has established herself as a go-to author for smart, well-researched historicals, and she does particularly great work in this era. Her superfun Knickerbocker series put her on the map, but I’d recommend starting with A Daring Arrangement, which follows an English noblewoman as she embraces the hustle and freedom of NYC and hooks up with a delicious, dashing financier.
Elizabeth Camden Inspirational romance is often a good place to go for great work set in less popular eras, and Camden’s Empire State series is perhaps the best example of this. Camden’s romances are witty, warm and exhaustively researched. She has a particular knack for writing about the scientific advances of the era, so any readers looking for STEM heroes and heroines will be very happy.
Laura Lee Guhrke Guhrke has series in all sorts of eras, but her Abandoned at the Altar books take place in Edwardian England. All three romances have delightfully independent ladies, all of them center around broken engagements, and characters can actually drive themselves around in cars rather than carriages! (You’ve heard of carriage love scenes—I raise you old-timey automobile love scenes.)
You’d think with the popularity of “Mad Men,” “Downton Abbey” and every other 20th-century period drama on television, there’d be a corresponding boom of romances. Alas, no. But there are a few shining stars out there, daring to write historical romances in eras sans corsets.
Amanda Quick The alter ego of romantic suspense icon Jayne Ann Krentz has lately started writing romances that I swear were tailor-made for yours truly—sexy mysteries set in Hollywood circa 1930. It’s like “Poirot” and the second season of “Agent Carter” had a baby and wow am I sorry for that image. So sorry. Anyway, these books are great—start with The Girl Who Knew Too Much.
Roseanna M. White Another hidden gem of inspirational romance, the Shadows Over England series takes place during the lead-up to the Blitz. As you might expect, things are very tense, very dramatic and very British. There are spy games and refugee musicians and clockmakers and reformed criminals aplenty, making these books excellent reads to curl up with on a chilly day.
Alyssa Cole The wonderful Cole has a fantastic backlist of historical novels and novellas written both before and after she became a total superstar with An Extraordinary Union (which is a great pick for a different historical, given its Civil War setting, but also technically still in the Victorian era). Let Us Dream is set in 1917 Harlem, and follows a romance between a cabaret owner and her chef. And Let It Shine stars a boxer and a civil rights activist who fall in love in 1961.
As a history nerd, I’ve never quite understood why the Regency and Victorian eras are so very, very dominant in romance. The following list is unfortunately still Anglocentric, much like the romance genre itself, but these authors offer a place to start for those looking to move beyond the Regency or Victorian romance.
Anne Gracie’s excellent new romance, The Scoundrel’s Daughter, accomplishes the tricky task of telling two love stories within one book.
It begins with a goose, which Gerald Paton, Viscount Thornton, almost crashes his curricle to avoid running over. However, it is the goose girl who truly raises his ire by lecturing him on his reckless driving.
The goose girl, Lucy Bamber, has always been left behind with friends or distant relatives of her destructive, deviant father, Octavius. Deadened by constant rejection and resentment, she is immature and surly with everyone. After multiple unfortunate experiences with high and mighty (or, even worse, handsy) lords, she sees nothing wrong with taking Gerald down a peg.
Lucy and Gerald’s paths would never have crossed again if not for Octavius, who returns to Lucy’s life and ropes her into his latest scheme. He’s come into possession of some scandalous letters that could ruin Alice, Lady Charlton’s life. The widowed Alice has been forced to sell her household goods in order to pay off the debts of her selfish, profligate but thankfully dead husband. Lucy’s father threatens the already-vulnerable Alice with the release of her husband’s scandalous letters to his mistress unless she agrees to not only bring Lucy out into society, but to get her married to a lord.
As it turns out, Alice is Gerald’s aunt, and when she turns to him for help, he realizes that his aunt’s new charge is the goose girl who cost him his latest race. At first, Gerald believes that Lucy is a fraud who is preying on his beloved aunt. But as he gets to know Lucy, he quickly realizes that she is as much a victim in this scheme as anyone. His protective instincts roused, Gerald turns to his former commanding officer, James, Lord Tarrant, for help.
Both of the love stories in The Scoundrel’s Daughter are compelling, but Alice and James’ hesitant, hard-won romance is especially moving. Alice brimmed with life before her marriage, but her husband ruined her confidence and self-esteem by cruelly deriding her and flaunting his relationship with his mistress. The widowed father of three young girls, James has resigned his commission in the army to dedicate himself to his daughters. Gracie makes it clear from the very beginning that his take-charge attitude has been tempered with deep empathy. James’ patience allows him to see beyond Alice’s prickly demeanor, and he is consistently understanding of her fears surrounding matrimony.
The Scoundrel’s Daughter viscerally examines how cruel actions and words from Lucy’s father and Alice’s husband destroyed their young minds and hearts. Gracie carves out space in both romances to demonstrate how both women’s personalities blossom because of the love and respect they’re shown from the new men in their lives and because of their friendship with one another. This only makes The Scoundrel’s Daughter’s balancing act all the more impressive: Within these two love stories, Gracie paints a beautiful portrait of two women becoming fuller, happier versions of themselves.
Anne Gracie’s excellent new romance, The Scoundrel’s Daughter, accomplishes the tricky task of telling two love stories within one book.
Fairy tale adaptations are always popular with romance readers, but Charis Michaels’ new historical romance series has a particularly clever twist. While each Awakened by a Kiss book is inspired by a classic story, the characters are based on supporting characters such as Snow White’s huntsman and Cinderella’s stepsisters. Isobel Tinker, the spunky, take-no-prisoners heroine of Michaels’ latest romance, When You Wish Upon a Duke, is (of course) inspired by Tinkerbell.
If you’re in search of more enchantment after reading Michaels’ latest love story, here are five more fairy tale-inspired romances with the author’s stamp of approval.
Little known-fact: I used to work at Disney World. And not as a disgruntled teenager or Orlando local. I actively pursued a job at the Most Magical Place during my junior year in college. I forsook serious internships to drive four states away and join the Disney “cast.” Wearing a Mickey name badge and black leather Reeboks, I pointed tourists in the direction of Space Mountain. The experience did not disappoint; I left Florida at the end of the summer in a happy swirl of chlorine and pixie dust.
Perhaps the natural next step was to write historical romance. Romances are, in many ways, fairy tales for adults. My current series, Awakened by a Kiss, is dripping in pixie dust. The trilogy explores “whatever-happened-to” sideline characters from classic tales like Snow White, Cinderella and Peter Pan. The first book, A Duchess a Day, follows up on the Huntsman from Snow White. The third book, If the Duke Fits, will give the happily-ever-after treatment to a stepsister from Cinderella. But perhaps the book I’m most excited about is my current release, When You Wish Upon a Duke.
The heroine, Miss Isobel Tinker, is inspired by Tinkerbell from Peter Pan. After a chaotic youth spent cavorting around Europe, Miss Tinker has sworn off two things: travel and men. She works as a clerk in a travel agency and vows never to leave her safe, reliable life in London. (Best-laid plans.) When a dashing duke strides into the shop and makes an offer she cannot refuse, Miss Tinker is compelled to dredge up her latent language skills and serve as his translator. Hilarity, adventure and passion ensue, with pirates and geothermal pools and that oh-so-important happily ever after.
Fairy tale themes in popular fiction have enriched and captivated readers for decades. To help celebrate the release of When You Wish Upon a Duke, I give you five novels that take inspiration from the words, “Once upon a time . . .”
The Beast of Beswickby Amelia Howard
If you love a beastly aristocrat in need of redemption, look no further than this "Beauty and the Beast"-inspired Regency.
Another Cinderella story, this is a reverse fairy tale. The hero is a working-class Cinderella and he comes up from the streets to marry a duke’s daughter. (This one’s not out until September 28, so preorder it now!)
Out of Characterby Annabeth Albert
While not inspired by a specific fairy tale, this contemporary romance features a prince and frog wizard (in costume!). Friends-to-lovers takes center stage here, with a magical backdrop of cosplay and fantasy gaming.
Few authors revisit a fairy tale like Eloisa James. Her Fairy Tales series spans multiple books, each one more magical than the next. My favorite is the Rapunzel-inspired Once Upon a Tower. The magic begins with the gorgeous cover and the story inside carries you away.
When You Wish Upon a Duke author Charis Michaels recommends five fantastic romances inspired by fairy tales.
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Author Maggie Tokuda-Hall (The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea) and illustrator Lisa Sterle discuss their first graphic novel collaboration, Squad, a story in which teenage girls are never quite what they seem.