The prodigiously gifted Alexis Hall spins pathos, sex and humor into frothy yet sensitive paeans to love. His ambitious new novel, Paris Daillencourt Is About to Crumble, demonstrates the magnitude of his talents.
The second Winner Bakes All romance after 2021’s Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, Paris is a bittersweet play on the opposites-attract trope. The titular character, a baker with devastating anxiety and self-doubt in spite of his beauty, talent and privilege, falls for Tariq Hassan, a charismatic young Muslim with ambition and confidence to spare. Paris and Tariq meet as competitors on “Bake Expectations,” a famous television cooking competition show. (If you’re thinking “The Great British Baking Show,” you’re on the right track.)
Paris’ roommate, Morag, ropes him into joining the show, hoping that becoming a contestant would break Paris out of an unhealthy pattern of isolation and doubt. Though some good does come of the experience, it turns out you can’t shock the mental illness out of someone. The reality of what Paris is going through—the result of nature (brain chemistry) complicated by nurture (or lack thereof, i.e., years of parental abandonment)—is too messy and complex.
Hall portrays Paris’ omnipresent anxiety disorder and how it affects his relationships with intensity and an impressive attention to cognitive and emotional detail. This may make some readers uncomfortable, as peeking inside Paris’ thoughts can be pretty harrowing. But many people who have experienced this type of mental health challenge, as well as some who haven’t, will find his story deeply relatable.
Paris may crumble under the pressure of appearing on “Bake Expectations,” but he also finds a real romantic connection with a man who’s delightfully different from himself. Tariq revels in his queerness, style and religion, and he inhabits the spotlight with a confidence that sometimes borders on cockiness. Paris and Tariq’s differences add an interesting texture to their interactions, and it is meaningful to see someone go through what Paris does and be loved throughout. Hall refreshingly balances sensitivity and matter-of-factness about Paris’ challenges and how they impact his relationship with Tariq, while also exploring where Tariq needs to grow.
Hall’s sprightly irony and clever humor significantly lighten the angst. At one moment, Tariq gets impatient with Paris, as people are wont to do with him as he works his way up to an apology. “Look . . . we’ve been here before,” Tariq says. “I know how long your apologies take. I’ve got a religious obligation. I’ll come find you later.”
A dish that’s both sweet and savory, Paris Daillencourt Is About to Crumble is poignant and witty in equal proportion.
A dish that’s both sweet and savory, Paris Daillencourt Is About to Crumble is poignant and witty in equal proportion.
Virginia Heath’s Never Rescue a Rogue is a sophisticated Regency gem. In this second entry in the Merriwell Sisters series, world-weary nobleman Giles Sinclair battles ennui by trading barbs with journalist Diana Merriwell, his best friend’s sister. Though their charming family and friends think they would make a perfect pair, they both disagree and are firmly entrenched in their singleness. But when Giles becomes a duke, a discomfiting lack of information on his real parentage could spell disaster. There’s no one better at uncovering the full truth than Diana, so Giles enlists her help—and subsequently loses his heart. Giles introduces the jaded Diana to passion and she steadily overcomes her fear of losing her independence, all while their slow-burn attraction blooms into steamy love scenes. The dialogue is delightful and the wordplay a pleasure to read, and the well-developed and heart-tugging backstories of both leads give this romance an authentic heft.
Better than Fiction
A woman reexamines her ideas about love in Better Than Fiction by Alexa Martin. Drew Young’s self-deprecating, humorous, first-person narration lets readers know unequivocally how she feels about her late grandmother (admiration and loyalty, which explains Drew’s determination to keep open the bookstore her grandmother left her) and about love (doesn’t trust it an inch, thanks to her deadbeat dad who left Drew and her mom for another family). When successful and sexy romance author Jasper Williams arrives for a special event at the bookstore, Drew is sure he’s too good to be true. But he’s also too attractive to resist. As they become better acquainted, Martin revels in the requisite rom-com scenes, including the delicious fan favorite that is “There’s just one bed.” Romance readers will feel vindicated by Drew’s growing appreciation of feel-good fiction, and will root for her and Jasper to get a happy ending equal to those in his novels.
Some Dukes Have All the Luck
Some Dukes Have All the Luck, the first entry in Christina Britton’s Synneful Spinsters series, stars a most unlikely pair. Ash Hawkins, Duke of Buckley, travels to the Isle of Synne to reclaim his wayward young wards after they flee London. Once there, he encounters naturalist Bronwyn Pickering, who has always been more interested in beetles than becoming a bride. The striking and sexy Ash ignites something in Bronwyn, and when he offers a marriage of convenience—promising she can continue her scientific studies, something her domineering parents have tried to prevent her from doing—she seizes her chance at greater independence. Of course, the marriage is soon complicated by feelings, Ash’s recalcitrant wards and a roaring sexual attraction. Bronwyn is easy to admire, especially as she overcomes her social awkwardness to care for the three girls entrusted to her. Ash is a classic “I’m not good enough for anyone” hero; it’s always gratifying when they’re proved wrong. With its bookish heroine, brooding hero and smoking love scenes, Some Dukes Have All the Luck is sigh-worthy fare.
Bookish meets brooding and optimist meets cynic in these opposites-attract love stories.
In The Gentleman’s Book of Vices, Jess Everlee’s soul-stirring debut, a fan obsessed with an illicit book finds true love with his favorite author.
Handsome Charlie Price is a respectable accountant by day and a “finely dressed and finely drunk” rake by night. When his exploits land him under a mountain of crushing debt, he makes a deal with his parents: If they pay what he owes, he’ll do whatever they ask.
Since that compromise, almost nothing in Charlie’s life has been of his choosing, not his comfortable London town house, not the servants who spy on him, not his bank job and not even his sweet fiancée, Alma. Until his wedding, Charlie’s committed to taking pleasure in two things: cultivating his collection of erotica and spending his free time with his gaggle of devoted friends at his hedonistic gentleman’s club, The Curious Fox.
The circumspect and cautious Miles Montague also leads two lives, albeit much more quietly than Charlie. Heartbroken and shaken by an experience that Everlee keeps mysterious at first, Miles runs a respectable bookshop but writes England’s most infamous erotica in his off hours under the nom de plume of Reginald Cox.
Cox happens to be Charlie’s favorite author, so when Charlie learns Cox is an unassuming bookseller, he visits the shop to ask him to autograph his most infamous novel (and Charlie’s most treasured possession): Immorality Plays. In 1883 London, being exposed as the author of an explicit text would mean legal and life-threatening danger, so of course, Miles assumes anyone asking for him by his pen name must be a blackmailer. It’s the queer Victorian version of a meet-disaster turned meet-cute. Miles and Charlie’s attraction is electric. Even though both know their relationship has a firm expiration date, love blooms in the blissful interregnum between their meeting and Charlie’s impending wedding.
Fans of KJ Charles, Cat Sebastian and Alexis Hall will find much to enjoy here. There are shades of Charles’ Unfit to Print (pornographer/bookseller lead) and A Seditious Affair (the well-wrought BDSM and the tightknit circle of friends centered on a private gentleman’s club) as well as Hall’s Something Fabulous (the slapstick humor, mistaken identities and genderplay). While the characters are a bit slow to develop and the plot isn’t as distinctive or refined as the best works in the subgenre, Charlie and Miles’ chemistry is sweet, and Everlee’s writing reaches its peak in their love scenes, which soar with emotional intensity. With its potent blend of queer eroticism, found family and unabashed swoon, this romance is a resonant winner.
An erotica devotee and an infamous author form an electric connection in Jess Everlee’s emotionally resonant queer Victorian romance.
Kennedy Ryan’s emotional new romance honors the work that a successful relationship requires with the story of Yasmen and Josiah, a divorced couple who fight their way back to each other after the loss of their child drives them apart.
This book explores weighty themes of mental health, second chances and redemption. Was there anything challenging about tackling material like this within the romance genre? What were the benefits? I think over the years, my brand has become “explores weighty themes,” LOL. I lean into real and raw and believe that, sometimes, love shines brightest when it’s tested. In real life, we don’t fall in love in a bubble-wrapped dream. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a good swoon and pure escape like the next girl. I do, but we also fall in love while losing jobs, facing health crises or even working through depression and grief. Love takes place in the context of real life.
Writing Yasmen, a character who is recovering from depression, was very challenging. Creating on-page resonance for those who’ve battled depression meant going to tough, dark places, but also reflecting the joy of healing. I consulted with several therapists and even employed a few as accuracy readers to ensure that this story felt real and true.
One of the benefits has been hearing from early readers that several of them are actually seeking therapy they’ve been delaying for, in some cases, years. Impact is a primary metric for success to me, so that feels like such a huge win and like the time and care it took to create this story was definitely worth it.
How did it feel to work on a story about redemption and second chances during what has been such a difficult handful of years, both on a grand scale due to the COVID-19 pandemic and for you personally? It was incredibly challenging. Before I Let Go was the third book I wrote during the pandemic. I had my annual checkup right before COVID hit, and my doctor expressed concern that I had several early indicators for depression. I’m a special needs mom and a writer who has deadlines through 2025, so I’m used to a low hum of stress running through my life and didn’t think much of it.
Pandemic conditions, though, exacerbated those early symptoms and made my home, like so many others, part prison, part pressure cooker. I remember finishing the second book I wrote during the pandemic, Reel, and just feeling “I can’t do that again. It will be a long time before I can write again.” And it was a long time before I was capable of writing again. You hear all the time about listening to your body because it will shut down if you don’t take care of it, but I never understood how debilitating depression and neglecting your mental health could be until I couldn’t get out of bed. Until I couldn’t make it through a day, sometimes through an hour, without crying. Until I was having panic attacks regularly. There was no room for creativity because I honestly was just trying to survive.
It took finding the right therapist (tried three!) and the right medication for me to start feeling better. Once I could even approach this story, I realized I had all this personal experience to draw from. There was this intersection of my life and Yasmen’s that—though I would have skipped that whole season of my life if I could have—I hope infused the story with a certain empathy, compassion and authenticity because so much of it came from my lived experience.
How do you approach sensitive topics like the ones included in Before I Let Go, both in thinking about your readers’ experiences but also in how you take care of yourself as a writer? I’m a lot better at taking care of the reader than I am at taking care of myself. My background is in journalism, so when people ask if I’m a plotter or pantser, I say neither. I kind of go out and find the story, usually through extensive interviews and research. I’m somewhat Hippocratic in my approach to sensitive topics: First, do no harm. That means accuracy readers, whom I compensate, and beta readers whom I trust to be ruthlessly honest with me. I’m pretty exacting and exhaustive when it comes to my sources and research when writing. I try to take just as much care with the experience the reader will have reading the story as I took while writing it.
My books can be tough, and I’ve gotten a lot better about content warnings than I used to be. When I first started self-publishing years ago, no one was really doing content warnings, but it has slowly risen to the forefront and I now understand why they are essential for readers.
As far as taking care of myself . . . I’m learning to do that better. My creative process is incredibly immersive, and when you deal with tough subjects the way I do, it can take its toll. I think my creative process is almost the equivalent of method acting. I often act out dialogue, which means I’m yelling at myself alone in my office when my characters are fighting. I find myself crying after interviews with subjects who’ve lived some of the tough experiences I write about. I’ve had bald spots by the time I finished books because of how invested I become and how anxious some of it makes me.
Many of my friends dive right into the next book once they finish one. I can’t do that. I try to build in a good amount of time between projects to recover. I used to feel guilty about that, but Becca Syme, an amazing writing coach, refers to the style I use to write and recover as the phoenix: these very concentrated bouts of intense energy and output, followed by extended periods of rest and recovery where you just don’t do it. I’ve stopped comparing my content, my process and what it takes for me to do it effectively to anyone else. Not comparing yourself to other people is one of the best ways to take care of yourself, in my experience. Iyanla Vanzant calls comparison an act of violence against the self. That’s a guiding thought for me, and it frees me up to do whatever works for me, not anyone else.
Yasmen and Josiah’s relationship buckles under grief, but the nature of their dual romantic and business partnership doesn’t allow them space to work through their shared trauma. What drew you to this topic as an author? What is it about “public grief” that can make it especially difficult to navigate? I wanted to write a love story that on the surface, at first glance, feels a bit hopeless. They’ve already divorced. They’re both in the process of moving on. They’ve settled into new rhythms for running their business and raising their children together. Yet, there is a lot left unsaid and unresolved between them. Their love is still so palpable, and other people see it. The first time, neither of them created space to work through their hurt and loss together. There were missed opportunities and mishandled issues that destroyed their relationship. This isn’t just a second-chance romance, it is a rebuilding; sorting through rubble to figure out what’s salvageable but also finding new materials, sturdier stuff discovered through therapy and transparency and renewed commitment.
As far as public grief, at one point in the book when Yasmen is breaking down a bit in a drugstore, she refers to it as a “violent vulnerability.” I think that’s accurate for some of us when our control slips. It’s happened to me before; holding on by a thread that snaps at the worst possible time. And you feel assaulted by all these emotions against which there is suddenly no defense. I’ve had some people be very kind when that has happened. I think because we walk around with our public masks and our armor, no one wants those to fall away in front of others. So when you encounter someone falling apart, you recognize just how many layers of control those tears had to break through to surface for everyone to see. And hopefully, we empathize when it happens.
What were some of the impacts of mental health on a marriage that you wanted to depict through Yasmen and Josiah’s relationship? What was important to you to convey as you wrote? I always resist the idea that love conquers all, that it fixes everything. That may sound funny coming from a romance writer, but the romance I write leans into the realities of life and really makes no attempt to escape them. This story, as much as anything I’ve ever written, embraces that. These two people, who loved each other so very much, had a lot to work through on their own. I’m not saying they or anyone else has to divorce to do that, but for this story and the decisions this couple made, time apart reformed them into people who could be happy and healthy together.
With Yasmen’s journey, I wanted to convey the importance of putting yourself first. Women—moms and wives especially—often put everyone before themselves. I wanted this to be about a woman who esteems her personal, emotional and mental well-being above all else. For her, choosing herself becomes a matter of survival. As she and her partner mature, heal and discover what they need as individuals, they come back together. I’m glad in my story, the love was still there waiting for them.
What was the original germ of this story for you, and did any parts of the finished product surprise you? It depends on what provokes me to tell the story. The story often starts with indignation, feminine rage—ya know, the usual. 🙂 I was watching a pipeline protest while writing the All the King’s Men series, which is about two best friends, one Yavapai-Apache and one Black, who start a political consulting firm to elect leaders who will support their beliefs. And they fall in love with the most amazing guys along the way, who respect and cherish them for who they are.
Most of my books are story first: I start thinking about who is the most natural fit for a scenario, or maybe contrarily, who would be the worst fit for this scenario to make it even more interesting, and the character begins to form. The original germ of Before I Let Go was just a happily ever after gone wrong. We rarely see what happens after The End. This was an HEA that didn’t hold up, and I wanted to restore it against all odds.
What surprised me about the story was how very complex Josiah’s journey was. He’s a Black man who desperately needs a safe space to unpack grief and trauma from his past but has been culturally conditioned to not admit it. I wanted to address how stigmatized mental illness/difficulties are for everyone, but especially in the Black community and especially for Black men. I didn’t even realize how much depth was in his character at first. There is quite a bit of on-page therapy in this romance, and it felt like the therapist was uncovering things I didn’t know about Josiah before we got into each session. Almost like there were things the character was hiding from me until we were in a safe space.
You started out as a traditionally published author, then self-published your last several titles and are now back in traditional publishing. What has that journey been like? What led you to start self-publishing your work, and why did you decide the time was right to return to traditional publishing? I’m a control freak. I enjoy the process of creating not just the story but the whole experience: the cover, the marketing, the audiobook. I enjoy influencing it all. I started traditionally publishing years ago because I honestly didn’t know another way. Self-publishing was just taking off. Not that many were doing it at the time. I wrote a story and pitched my first finished novel to an agent and an editor at a writer’s conference “for practice.” Go figure, they both signed me. It happened really fast for me, and I don’t regret my path. I learned a lot about myself from those early releases.
I soon realized I wanted to stretch my wings, test my creativity, my judgment and my business instincts in a way that self-publishing afforded me. I’ve built my career primarily through self-publishing but want to expand it through diverse distribution. I released Queen Move, which became an instant USA Today bestseller and has been optioned for television, though a small press, and now I’m partnering with a large publisher to send Before I Let Go out into the world. I’m a hybrid author who is always looking for new pockets of readers. Some of those places I can reach on my own, and some I’ll reach partnering with someone else. I’ve embraced that as part of my business strategy. It’s all my brand. It’s all my name and my integrity as a storyteller. I want readers to know that no matter where they find my work, it will be consistently mine.
We are writing in a time when you never know what will happen for a story. If it resonates with the right people at the right time and in the right way, it may not matter who is distributing it; it can go further than you ever imagined. So I focus on writing great stories I’m proud of and seeing who finds them.
What’s your favorite trope to read? To write? I love a good widow book. That sounds morbid, but I do love reading widows. And if the husband’s best friend was secretly pining for her all this time, even better. That sounds bad, huh?
To write . . . second chance, for sure. I think most of my books are second chance. I like love stories that stretch over time; to see how these people change and grow through the years. How they are “ready” for each other in a way that maybe they weren’t the first time around.
What are you reading and loving right now? I recently read Honey and Spice by Bolu Babalola, and all I want is to be a Black Brit on a college campus now. It was brilliant and modern and heartfelt and slow-burny. 10 out of 10 recommend. Already thirsty for the sequel. I also loved The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian and A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall. Half-Blown Rose by Leesa Cross-Smith is fantastic, but brace your heart for a bit of a nonconventional HEA. It puts you in the mind of Robinne Lee’s The Idea of You (which is essential reading to me), but it’s more of a love story, not a typical HEA romance.
Photo of Kennedy Ryan by Perrywinkle Photography.
The author shows the work required for a happily ever after in Before I Let Go, an emotional second-chance romance.
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.
Love is hard. And when trauma is added to the mix, the partner you adore can struggle to be the partner you need.
Kennedy Ryan’s latest contemporary romance, Before I Let Go, is dedicated to the “strong girls . . . hustlers . . . [and] superwomen,” all of which could be used to describe heroine Yasmen Wade. Yasmen built a charmed and idyllic life with Josiah, her college sweetheart-turned-husband. Partners in life and in business, the two ran a successful restaurant together. But their happiness came to a screeching halt when their third child was stillborn, which was only the start of a series of heartbreaks. In the emotional aftermath, Yasmen’s grief became paralyzing. She sought mental health counseling, but Josiah was unwilling to seek therapy with her. Yasmen had to battle the darkness alone, which created a rift between her and her husband. Rather than taking refuge in each other, as “Team Wade” had done for nearly two decades, they divorced. However, their hearts never truly let go.
This is a story of resilience, redemption and second chances; it’s heavy but hopeful. With meticulously detailed prose, Ryan creates characters who are deeply relatable, so compelling and lushly drawn that they feel like old friends. Yasmen and Josiah’s story serves as a reminder that the best things in life are worth fighting for, and that a successful relationship requires more than simply loving each other. Before I Let Go is an ode to supporting the emotional needs of your partner and learning to be gentle with yourself.
Kennedy Ryan’s Before I Let Go is a heavy but hopeful second-chance romance that follows a divorced couple who find their way back to each other.
Who doesn’t love a good renovation story? Whether it’s the experts of “Queer Eye” making lifestyle improvements, Marie Kondo organizing clutter, the beloved hosts of “What Not to Wear” upgrading a wardrobe (still waiting on that reboot, TLC) or the “Property Brothers” giving a home a much-needed tuneup, we all like to watch professionals take a mess and rework, renew and restore it into something beautiful. There’s a hopefulness to renovations, too, in the idea that everything has hidden potential just waiting to be brought to light. And the main couple of Ashley Herring Blake’s Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail? Well, let’s just say they could use some touch-ups.
Carpenter Jordan Everwood has been spiraling since the abrupt, heartbreaking end of her marriage. On top of that, the place she loves most—her beloved grandmother’s historic Everwood Inn—is on the verge of closing. Their only hope is a renovation covered by “Innside America,” a popular TV show. But filming the show means working with glamorous, ice-cold designer Astrid Parker, with whom Jordan has a disastrous meet-ugly. Astrid is beautiful, composed, organized, efficient—and also desperately unhappy, locked in a life that doesn’t bring her any joy. And now, to save her stalled career, she’ll have to work with the exasperating, sarcastic, gorgeous, immensely talented Jordan, who thwarts and upstages her at every turn.
Far from being a match made in heaven, Astrid and Jordan seem more like a lit match and a fuse. It takes time for them to let down their walls, reveal their vulnerabilities and allow themselves to be seen and valued for who they really are. While Astrid is the eponymous character, Jordan’s journey actually proves the most moving. Practically from page one, it’s clear that Astrid’s relationship with her mother is toxic and that she’ll only find happiness when she learns to stand on her own. Her discovery of what truly brings her joy is sweet and satisfying (satisfying in every way—this is a romance novel, after all), but the plot threads feel fairly familiar. On the other hand, the lessons Jordan has to learn are not as immediately clear. I felt like I discovered along with her what she needed to hear someone say to her, what she needed to uncover about herself and, ultimately, what she deserved from life.
Why do we like renovation stories so much? Maybe because all of us are works in progress, too. There’s always the hope that, like Astrid and Jordan, we might end up renovated and restored into exactly who we’re meant to be—with exactly the partner we’re meant to have.
Ashley Herring Blake’s follow-up to Delilah Green Doesn’t Care is a hot and hopeful renovation romance.
Freya Marske’s follow-up to her acclaimed debut, A Marvellous Light, is a stunning, sensual companion novel that follows the threads of the same overarching mystery: a threat to the magical community in Edwardian England. A Restless Truth focuses on Maud Blyth, sister to A Marvellous Light’s Robin, as she discovers her own strengths and explores her sexuality in this magical murder mystery.
Maud is working as a lady’s companion for the older and sometimes aggravating magician Elizabeth Navenby aboard the transatlantic ocean liner Lyric. When Mrs. Navenby is found dead in her room with several valuable items missing, Maud suspects foul play. As Maud learns more about her employer’s life, she realizes the murder may be connected to the mission Robin and his partner, Edwin, pursued in the first book in the series: to protect three artifacts so powerful they can affect all of the magic in the world.
A delightfully brash and boisterous cast of possible suspects and allies drives the story. There’s Lord Hawthorne, a gentleman with a reputation for sexual prowess; Alan Ross, a shady journalist with a keen ear for gossip; and Violet Debenham, an alluring actor-turned-heiress whose scandalous past only makes her all the more enticing. As they turn the decks of the Lyric upside down in their search for the killer and the objects they stole, Maud is the relatable center of the storm. She’s an immediately engaging protagonist, both because of her desire to prove herself to her brother and the magician community and because of her evolving understanding of her sexuality. Marske conjures yet another spellbinding romance, this time between Maud and Violet, who is as sharp-tongued and adventurous as Maud is wide-eyed and curious. Sparks fly between the two young women upon their first meeting, but will their connection last after the murder is solved?
A Restless Truth is a thrilling mystery and a lush historical fantasy that will leave readers breathless—both from its exciting plot twists and its captivating romance.
Freya Marske’s follow-up to A Marvellous Light is a stunning, sensual love story wrapped in an exciting murder mystery.
Given our culture’s widespread embrace of all things nerdy and the ever-increasing popularity of romance novels, it’s no surprise that readers are flocking to stories of true love in magical realms and soulmates bantering their way through intergalactic intrigue.
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches
Mika Moon has a large following online, dazzling her audience with potions and her sparkling personality. The difference between Mika and other young women posing as witches with vlogs is that Mika is actually a witch. Taught to keep her abilities under wraps by her overbearing guardian, Mika knows that the biggest rule of witchcraft is that you never talk about witchcraft. Still, she believes her online activities are innocuous enough: After all, who would truly believe that witches exist? When a mysterious estate called Nowhere House entreats her to come and train a group of three young witches who don’t have control over their powers, Mika is immediately intrigued—and worried. After all, generations of witches have stayed safe by not congregating or doing anything suspicious. But she goes anyway, armed with nothing but her trusty dog, Circe, and a winning smile. At Nowhere House, Mika quickly runs into problems, not just from her young charges but also from Jamie, a testy librarian with trust issues who can’t decide if Mika is the answer to their problems or an even bigger problem herself. But as Mika settles into her role, she begins to understand that Jamie’s thorny exterior guards a man who may not be nice but is kind. And his steadfast presence might just be enough for Mika to lower the walls around her own heart.
In The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, author Sangu Mandanna tells a story of found family, taking chances and, of course, romance. Mandanna combines two classic rom-com tropes—forced proximity and a grumpy-sunshine pairing—with the charm of the English countryside, evoking restrained yet fluffy tales of governesses and duty but in a modern setting. Like a good cup of tea, Mandanna’s novel warms you from the inside out. It’s got just enough sugar and cream to bring a smile to your face but not so much that it seems saccharine.
Eclipse the Moon
Jessie Mihalik returns to her Starlight’s Shadow series with Eclipse the Moon, an action-packed, sci-fi romance with a central couple that readers will adore.
A hacker and bounty hunter aboard the spaceship Starlight’s Shadow, Kee Ildez needs a break from the ship’s close quarters and the presence of one of her alien crewmates, steely Valovian weapons expert Varro Runkow. She thinks a few weeks of solo investigation on the space station Bastion, where someone seems to be trying to start a war between the humans and the Valovians, will help her shake off her frustrating attraction to Varro. But her plan is upended when she realizes that he has followed her onto the space station. As tensions rise between human and Valovian designers during a fashion exhibit, Kee tries to stay professional and keep her mind on her mission. The peace between the two races has been tentative at best, and even something seemingly innocuous could plunge the galaxy into war.
Mihalik moves the plot along quickly, mixing deadly intrigue, fast-paced action and political diplomacy. Kee and Varro are incontrovertible heroes, and Mihalik embraces the idea of good triumphing over evil, giving Eclipse the Moon a vaguely old-fashioned, space Western-esque feel. Their romance unfolds slowly, as their mutual attraction comes to a head amid the danger on Bastion. The mystery plot often takes center stage, which will please more drama- and action-oriented readers. But Mihalik knows her audience and makes sure to include some very steamy moments amid all the dangerous tension and close combat.
A Taste of Gold and Iron
A Taste of Gold and Iron is a slow-burn romance wrapped in a fantasy novel full of court intrigue. Alexandra Rowland’s latest novel opens as Prince Kadou of Arasht has made a grievous political misstep, one that leaves two of his own bodyguards dead and angers both his sister, who happens to be the sultan, and the father of her child. In an attempt to save face for the royal family, Kadou is temporarily banned from court and assigned a new bodyguard, Evemer. Evemer’s disdain for Kadou is matched only by his dedication to formality and protocol, but what he lacks in congeniality he makes up for in skill and dedication. As Kadou and his household are pulled into a conspiracy of break-ins and money forgery, Kadou will have to trust Evemer if he is to pull the royal family out of harm’s way.
Political intrigue dominates much of A Taste of Gold and Iron, so those looking for a book that primarily centers a love story would do well to look to other avenues. However, for readers who enjoy forced proximity and bodyguard romances, A Taste of Gold and Iron offers both, wrapped in a delightful package of espionage and royal duty. In addition to their deft handling of multiple conspiracies and political disputes, Rowland also impresses in their nuanced depiction of anxiety. Kadou has panic attacks that leave him vulnerable to manipulation from both political opponents and his own staff. The story’s acceptance of Kadou’s anxiety expands A Taste of Gold and Iron‘s focus from romantic love to trust and vulnerability as well.
These reads from writers Sangu Mandanna, Jessie Mihalik and Alexandra Rowland have a couple to root for and a world to get totally lost in.
In Francesca May’s stunning, gorgeously composed fantasy debut, Wild and Wicked Things, a dissipated coven of witches and a meek young woman become unexpected allies.
Annie Mason has led a quiet and ordinary life. When her estranged father dies shortly after the end of World War I, she reluctantly travels to Crow Island to take care of his estate. The island also happens to be the very place her former best friend, Bea, resides in a fancy house on the sea with her new husband. Crow Island is famous across the land for its faux magic parlors and fake spells and potions, but Annie soon learns that its inhabitants also practice true, darker-than-imagined magic. When she rents a summer cottage next to the infamous Cross House, where a coven throws lavish parties that feature Prohibited magic, Annie is given an opportunity to find a place—and maybe a person—that actually feels like home.
May seamlessly transports readers to the shores of Crow Island, straight into the shoes of Annie and de facto coven leader Emmeline Delacroix. Annie is whisked away by the island’s enchantment, and May’s prose echoes F. Scott Fitzgerald to capture the finery and wild parties of the era. And while Annie originally thinks she’s being bewitched by the coven’s magic or the island, she comes to realize that she is simply following her innermost desires. The supposedly cursed island gives her time and space to come to terms with grief over lost loved ones and her internalized shunning of her sapphic sexuality. Emmeline’s inexplicable and undeniable magnetism is a clever plot complication but also the perfect setup for a passionate, slow-burning queer romance that feels forged in destiny.
Under all the glamour, Wild and Wicked Things is also a nuanced exploration of intergenerational trauma and abusive relationships. Emmeline hovers over her adoptive siblings, Isobel and Nathan, even though their abusive guardian, coven founder Cilla, is long gone. Annie finds herself in a similar situation as she tries to shield Bea from a marriage gone wrong, and she and Emmeline bond over their roles as protectors and healers. But nothing is truly black and white, from the witches’ backstories and intentions, to Bea’s desires, to Annie’s past. May does not shy away from the macabre, and every twist is better and eerier than the last.
May’s thrilling fantasy takes familiar tropes, mashes them with a mortar and pestle, sprinkles them with a bit of herbs and throws them into the cauldron, creating a fresh and exciting take on witchy historical fantasy.
Wild and Wicked Things is a stunning, gorgeously composed historical fantasy with a compelling queer romance at its heart.
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.
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.
A River Enchanted, Rebecca Ross’ adult fiction debut, is an elegant fantasy novel of homecoming and mystery. With its lyrical prose and tight world building, this story is both modern and timeless, drawing from the traditions of genre greats like Steven Lawhead and marrying them to the sensibilities of modern works like Genevieve Gornichec’s The Witch’s Heart and Tana French’s In the Woods.
The novel opens with the prodigal Jack Tamerlaine’s return to Cadence, the isle of his youth, a land where magic and spirits run free and gossip is carried on the wind as easily as smoke. He soon learns that young girls are going missing on Cadence, seemingly plucked from the air by a formless spirit, leaving no trace of them behind. Adaira, heiress to the laird and Jack’s childhood nemesis, has summoned Jack back to the island to help her find out exactly what has happened to the girls—and to get them back before it’s too late. She wants him to sing down the spirits as her mother once did so that Adaira can ask them what matter of mischief is afoot. But as Jack and Adaira delve deeper into the mystery, the spirits begin to suggest that a far darker secret lies behind the loss of the girls.
Already known for her young adult fantasy novels, Ross has created a world both rich and wonderful in Cadence. The island is full of so much magic, so many feuds and stories—enough that capturing them all in one novel, even a nearly 500-page one, seems a difficult task. But somehow Ross succeeds, guiding readers through the intricate warp and weft of the island and its traditions and creating a brilliant tapestry full of mystery and wonder. And while Ross does revel in world building, she doesn’t tell her story at a remove. The four characters that the book centers on—Jack, Adaira, guardsman Torin and healer Sidra—are vibrant and fully realized, keeping the myth-making quality of the book at bay and instead grounding the story in these characters’ heartaches and fears, their desires and attractions. A sublime mix of romance, intrigue and myth, A River Enchanted is a stunning addition to the canon of Celtic-inspired fantasy.
A sublime mix of romance, intrigue and myth, A River Enchanted is a stunning addition to the canon of Celtic-inspired fantasy.
Heather Walter’s debut novel, Malice, transforms the familiar fairytale of Sleeping Beauty into a captivating fantasy romance between the storybook Princess Aurora and the dark sorceress Alyce.
Walter’s immersive world building plunges readers into the Briar Kingdom, built on a system of inequality and discrimination. The fae, known as Graces, are kept as magical servants for cold-blooded mortal nobles. The Graces can create beauty and light, but Alyce’s magic seems to produce only ugliness and pain. Known as the Dark Grace, Alyce is the last descendant of a type of fae known as the Vila, and her relationship with the other fae is complicated—some avoid her, all fear her and most are willing to throw her under the bus.
When Alyce decides to attend a masquerade ball despite not being invited, she is outed as the dark fairy by one of Princess Aurora’s failed and jealous suitors. Alyce flees, but Aurora runs after her and Alyce is shocked at how down-to-earth the princess is. Aurora must find her true love by age 21 or she will be cursed to sleep forever. She has been kissed by many noblemen, often strangers, to try and break the curse, but none have succeeded. As Alyce and Aurora grow closer, the Dark Grace becomes determined to find a way to break the spell.
Told through the puckish voice of Alyce, Malice is a sympathetic take on the traditionally one-dimensional figure of the dark fairy. Alyce’s wry wit and determination to save Aurora make her instantly sympathetic, a refreshing change from other fairytale retellings that attempt to conjure some meticulous, outlandish backstory to explain the evil doings of a nefarious character. Alyce is feared, yes, but for things she’s had from birth and can’t control. Her growing love for Aurora and her increasing resistance to the status quo shine through her gloomy outlook, and as she learns about the history of Briar and the truth behind the treatment of the fae, Alyce learns some unexpected truths about her powers as well.
This heartfelt, ever-escalating story of true love burns bright, encouraging readers to brush aside shame or condescension and follow their hearts.
Heather Walter’s debut novel, Malice, transforms the familiar fairytale of Sleeping Beauty into a dark and compelling fantasy romance between the storybook princess and the dark sorceress Alyce.
Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!
So, you made your way through not only “Bridgerton” but every other historical miniseries you could get your hands on, and now you’re faced with the daunting task of picking out a Regency romance novel from approximately one million titles. Don’t worry—we’re here to help. There are tons of terrific books out there, and because the subgenre has more variety than you might expect, we’ve added a complementary television series to each recommendation below to help you scope out the vibe.
A Duchess by Midnight
Miss Drewsmina “Drew” Trelayne is determined to make a name for herself as a guide for young debutantes embarking on their London season in A Duchess by Midnight by Charis Michaels. When her newly royal stepsister, Cynde, uses her connections to secure Drew’s first paying client, Drew has her work cut out for her. How can she teach the Duke of Lachlan’s troubled nieces proper deportment and etiquette when she can’t seem to stop herself from breaking all the rules with the irresistible, scandal-ridden duke?
Read if you loved “The Baby-Sitters Club”
Yes, we’re really comparing a Regency romance to a TV show based on a series of chapter books, and here’s why. Both A Duchess by Midnight and the recent Netflix adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s popular series, which launched in 1986, take a story that had grown a bit stagnant in our imaginations and make it feel fresh without losing the magic of the original. Drewsmina is a Regency version of the stepsisters from Disney’s Cinderella, and through her, Michaels breathes new life into a slightly dusty fairy tale. Far from being a two-dimensional figure, Drewsmina becomes the fully realized heroine of her own story by being willing to grow and change. Her less-than-perfect past makes her the ideal person to reach the lonely, isolated duke and his two wary girls in this charming twist on an age-old story.
Kunigunde “Kuni” de Heusch is determined to become the first Royal Guardswoman of Balcovia. She can’t get distracted by anyone or anything—not even Graham Wynchester. But when Graham interferes with her mission at the beginning of Erica Ridley’s Nobody’s Princess, Kuni ends up falling in with the astonishing Wynchester clan—going on adventures, learning acrobatic skills and discovering a brand of heroism and service that is like nothing she’s ever known. Her time in England is limited, and the future of her dreams is waiting for her in Balcovia. She’ll soon have everything she ever wanted . . . except for a certain remarkable man.
Read if you loved “The Umbrella Academy”
Unlike the characters in the comic book-inspired Netflix series, the Wynchesters don’t have supernatural powers, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to make the world a better place. These adopted siblings use their fortune to right wrongs and protect the innocent. They bicker with and tease and aggravate one another, while still coming together when there’s an enemy to face. It’s lovely to see Kuni fall for not only the eminently lovable Graham but also his entire family and their appreciation of and support for one another. Ridley’s take on the Regency period is quirkier and broader than the norm, but that just makes Nobody’s Princess all the more compelling and fun.
The Rake’s Daughter
In Anne Gracie’s The Rake’s Daughter half sisters Clarissa and Isobel Studley have no one but each other—and if their father had had his way, they wouldn’t even have that. Isobel is the illegitimate daughter whom the unscrupulous baronet had no interest in raising, and only Clarissa’s stubborn loyalty kept the girls together through childhood. They cling to each other even tighter when their father dies and they are sent to London to live with their new guardian, Leo Thorne, the Earl of Salcott. Because his opinion of Isobel stems from her father’s viciously cruel descriptions, Leo is appalled by his instantaneous and fierce attraction to her. As they both try to shepherd Clarissa through her first season, the fiery Isobel challenges Leo to see past his preconceptions.
Read if you loved “The Good Place”
Gracie takes a warmer, sweeter view of Regency high society; there are still challenges and prejudices, but there are also examples of extraordinary kindness, devotion and compassion. Like Eleanor and Michael in the afterlife-set TV show, the characters in The Rake’s Daughter have vibrant, rich personalities that make it easy to root for them. Leo has a particularly impressive character arc, starting off almost as an antagonist before becoming the hero he always had the potential to be. And it’s not just the lead characters who will steal your heart: Loyal, kind, insightful but insecure Clarissa is reminiscent of Chidi from “The Good Place,” and one can only hope she gets her own book soon.
★ A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting
Kitty Talbot, the heroine of Sophie Irwin’s A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting, is left with four sisters to care for and an ocean of debt after her father dies and her fiancé jilts her. The only thing left of value is herself, so it’s off to London and the marriage mart to find a rich match. Luck seems to be on her side when she’s able to catch the eye of sweet, easily manipulated Archie de Lacy, but her hopes are punctured when his disapproving older brother, Lord Radcliffe, comes to break up the match. Desperate to the point of recklessness, Kitty manages to convince Radcliffe to make a trade: She’ll leave his brother alone if he helps her find another match. But what starts out as a grudging alliance blooms into something more, something built on growing respect, admiration, attraction—and maybe even love.
Read if you loved “Inventing Anna”
If you loved the high-wire tension of the miniseries featuring Anna Delvey’s con artist exploits, then this is the Regency romance for you. But unlike Anna, Kitty is a heroine you can genuinely like, even as you marvel at her audacity. She’s clever and cunning, but she’s also wry, funny and refreshingly honest, with admirable reasons for her manipulative fortune-hunting. From the start, her sharp mind and ruthless practicality make the story relentlessly readable, charging scenes with terrific tension and biting wordplay. Crucially, however, there’s so much more to Kitty than her diamond-hard facade. She’s not a cipher but a vivid and relatable character. The more Radcliffe understands her, the more he loves her—as will readers.
Overwhelmed by the amount of Regency romances out there? Let us be your guide to this season's best reads.
In Remember Love, Mary Balogh kicks off a new Regency-era series that will center on Ravenswood Hall, an ancestral estate.
Caleb Ware, the handsome Earl of Stratton, lives at Ravenswood with his wife, Clarissa, and their five children. By all accounts, the tightknit family is happy and prosperous. Gwyneth Rhys, whose family lives next door, has been in love for years with the earl’s oldest son, smart and serious Devlin Ware, who is fresh out of Oxford.
During a party at Ravenswood, Gwyn discovers that Devlin has been pining after her in turn. For one dreamy night,they dance and stroll in the moonlight and everything is perfect. But then Devlin’s discovery of Caleb’s philandering changes the trajectory of their lives. He calls out his father for his ungentlemanly behavior and is subsequently cast out of the family.
Balogh tells the story in two parts: The first section takes place before Devlin learns of his father’s infidelities; the second is set six years later, after Caleb has died and as Devlin returns home to take his place as earl after serving in the military. Having his idealized vision of his family shattered changes Devlin, and Balogh’s structure firmly underlines this. Young, hopeful and naive in the first section, Devlin is ruled by his sense of responsibility in the second, to the point that he’s confident there’s no room in his life for the frivolity of love. But Gwyneth, drawing on their lifelong friendship, can see right through Devlin, and fans of second-chance romances will be delighted as she slowly draws him out, reminding him of all the love he was once able to give.
Balogh doesn’t add in any superfluous conflict, allowing readers to luxuriate in her lush descriptions of the Regency era and sigh as Devlin and Gwyneth overcome the troubles of the past to find their way back to each other.
Mary Balogh's Remember Love is a lush and heart-tugging Regency romance that illustrates the poignancy of second chances.
Joanna Shupe sets the pages on fire in the passionate Gilded Age romance The Bride Goes Rogue, the third entry in her Fifth Avenue Rebels series. Romantically minded Katherine Delafield has always looked forward to marriage, even though her own union has been arranged by her father. Her intended, New York City tycoon Preston Clarke, is a man she’s only seen from afar, and she’s stunned and humiliated when she learns that Preston has no intention of honoring his agreement with her father. Intent on making up for lost time, Katherine attends a scandalous masquerade ball and enjoys an exciting dalliance with a masked man—who turns out to be none other than her ex-betrothed. Despite their shock at discovering each other’s identity, neither truly regrets that steamy encounter . . . and all the other ones that follow. The ruthless Preston proves to have a heart after all, and despite being a naive ingenue, Katherine surprises him with her ardent desires. Shupe skillfully brings the opulent setting to life, and Katherine and Preston’s love story will leave readers with racing hearts and satisfied smiles.
From Bad to Cursed
The peace of the magical town of Thistle Grove is threatened in From Bad to Cursed by Lana Harper. Four supernaturally gifted families live side by side in relative harmony in this Illinois community. The paranormal citizens make a living providing exciting, supposedly fake experiences to tourists, aka “normies”—at an occult superstore, for instance, or a haunted house. But during one of the town’s celebrations to mark the festival of Beltane, a mysterious curse nearly strips young witch Holly Thorn of her powers. Holly’s upstanding cousin Rowan Thorn and town wild child Isidora Avramov are ordered to investigate. Rowan and Issa have been enemies for years, but as they hunt down the person who cast the curse, their antagonism morphs into a surprisingly strong mutual attraction. From Bad to Cursed is an all-senses escape into a vivid and inventive world. Written from Issa’s snarky first-person perspective, this paranormal rom-com is sure to delight.
Readers are invited along on an exciting adventure in author-duo Christina Lauren’s Something Wilder. Lily Wilder leads tourists on fake treasure hunts through the beautiful desert landscapes of Utah. It’s a career path made possible by Lily’s infamous treasure hunter father, Duke Wilder—and made necessary by her late father’s lack of financial planning. To her unpleasant surprise, Lily’s latest group of clients includes Leo Grady, the man who got away (or, more specifically, left her) 10 years ago. Even as they grapple with their past and what drove them apart, unforeseen danger requires Leo and Lily to combine their reserves of courage and cleverness to survive. The authors clearly hold the red rocks and canyons of Utah dear and describe them in loving detail throughout. Something Wilder is laden with suspense, intrigue and fun as its main couple faces down danger and learns to love again.
These three romances by Joanna Shupe, Lana Harper and Christina Lauren are perfect seasonal reads.
Cat Sebastian returns to the Georgian-era setting of 2021’s The Queer Principles of Kit Webb with The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes, a charming story about two chaotic bisexuals who cross each other’s paths while pursuing their criminal endeavors.
It’s hard to be sanctimonious when you have to rely on the man blackmailing you. That’s exactly the situation Marian Hayes, the Duchess of Clare, finds herself in after shooting her husband. The only person she can think to turn to for a quick exit strategy is Rob Brooks, the cheerful highwayman and con artist who’s blackmailing her. If she could reach her own rear end, she’d kick it. And thus starts another highly enjoyable romance from Sebastian.
Sebastian’s prose is playful, and she sets a fast, jaunty pace as Marian and Rob ramble around the countryside, trying to figure out their next moves. She has a knack for making her characters relatable to modern audiences while still ensuring that they feel like people who live in 1751 and thus have to grapple with a rigid class system. Rob is an impulsive, reckless career criminal with an enviable resume of robbery, counterfeiting and horse theft. His secret is that he’s recently become the heir to a dukedom that he doesn’t want, seeing as he is firmly opposed to the aristocracy on a philosophical level. Meanwhile, the quick-witted and courageous Marian married a duke in order to ensure her family would be taken care of, but she soon learned that the price of the title was too high to pay. Unlike many historical romances, wealth never gets the characters of The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes anywhere: It never makes them happy, and it never truly changes the circumstances of their lives.
The couple’s mutual (and initially grudging, on Marian’s part) fondness morphs into a sweet romance moored by their shared practicality and humor, and by the quiet wounds of loneliness that echo in each of their hearts. Rob loves Marian almost from the beginning, and even though she struggles to open her heart in return, she always treats his love as the precious treasure that it is.
If you’re not already a fan of historical romance, you will be when you’re done reading this one.
If you're not already a fan of historical romance, you will be when you're done reading The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes.
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.
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.
In Never a Duke by Grace Burrowes, a determined lady teams up with an almost-gentleman to search for women who have gone missing in Regency London. Ned Wentworth, who was adopted into a wealthy ducal family as a child, is intrigued to receive a note asking for aid from Lady Rosalind Kinwood, known for her dedication to charitable causes. Instinct urges him to demur, but Rosalind’s beauty and her fear for her missing lady’s maid calls to him. As Ned and Rosalind meet to discuss his investigation, a slow-burn romance full of understated yet heart-aching yearning begins. Burrowes’ writing style evokes classic Regency romance with its witty repartee and loving attention to clothing. Tortured-yet-tender Ned is an unforgettable hero who learns to value himself as much as those around him do. This is the seventh entry in Burrowes’ Rogues to Riches series, and fans will revel in glimpses of past couples and feel delighted that the worthy Ned has found love at last.
Mad for a Mate
MaryJanice Davidson pens a furiously paced, full-of-fun shifter romance in Mad for a Mate. Magnus Berne, a brown werebear of Scottish extraction, is surprised when Verity Lane washes up on the beach of his private island. He’s fascinated by her presence, then even more fascinated to learn she’s a squib—a werecreature that cannot shift—and is part of a club that takes dangerous dares to prove their worth to the world. When fellow club members begin dying, Magnus worries about the lovely Verity, and though usually reclusive, he opens himself up to her world and heart. Nimble-minded readers will delight in Davidson’s almost stream-of-consciousness style and occasional authorial interjections. She never spoon-feeds readers the rules of her paranormal world, which keeps the pace brisk and suits Mad for a Mate’s all-around quirkiness.
When She Dreams
Amanda Quick returns to the glamorous 1930s resort town of Burning Cove, California, in When She Dreams. Intrepid Maggie Lodge resolves to discover who is trying to blackmail her employer, a popular advice columnist. As part of her investigation, she travels to a conference in Burning Cove along with her newly hired (and newly minted) PI, Sam Sage. The conference’s subject intersects with one of Maggie’s personal interests: lucid dreaming, a state in which dreams can act as a conduit to psychic abilities. After a conference attendee’s suspicious death and an encounter with a scientist who is obsessed with Maggie’s abilities as a lucid dreamer, the pair realize this might be much more than a case of simple blackmail. Maggie’s can-do attitude finds a perfect complement in ex-cop Sam’s world-weariness. Falling in love is an unexpected delight for both of them, but longtime fans will not be surprised by Quick’s imagination and mastery of storytelling, which never fail to entertain.
Tired of gloomy vampires and brooding werewolves? Two lighthearted, fizzily fun paranormals, plus a truly unforgettable Regency hero, await you in this month’s romance column.
Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!