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February 3, 2021

5 Romance Novels to Read for Valetine's Day

by MK French

Valentine's Day is coming up soon, and like many of our holidays this past year, it might not be quite the same. What you can count on is plenty of happily ever after romance novels. Today, I have reviews for 5 romance novels to get you started on your Valentine's Day reading.

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Agent Under Siege by Lena Diaz

Agent Under Siege
Dec 2020; Harlequin Intrigue; 978-1335401489
ebook, print (256 pages); romantic suspense
Teagan Ray was abducted, but everyone believes the Kentucky Ripper is in prison. Former FBI profiler Bryson Anton agrees to help her investigate. There's a powerful attraction between them, and there are many attacks from a cunning villain to fend off.

Agent Under Siege is the second book of the Justice Seekers series within the Harlequin Intrigue imprint. The Justice Seekers are a group of former law enforcement officers working together in a "quirky" base known as Camelot. While I hadn't read the first book, it's not important to understand this novel. Teagan came to Bryson and demanded his help, not above flirting to get her way. She's haunted by her abduction and scarring, he's haunted by the failure to catch the Kentucky Ripper properly the first time. Teagan believes that the one caught and in prison is merely a copycat, and the real killer simply changed the range and method ofL choosing victims. They're determined to find the truth, going back to the beginning to start the search.

I was shocked when the killer kidnapped them both, and Teagan was subject to freezing because of the trauma. It's a real response; everyone knows about fight or flight when stressed, but the freeze is also a very real reaction, too. She froze and had to follow directions for fear that Bryson would be killed. We're along with them for the ride as they save each others' lives and try to figure out the truth of the Kentucky Ripper. The answer isn't what I expected at all, and the final confrontations are very well done. This is a worthy addition to the Intrigue line, and the romance between Teagan and Bryson is more than just physical attraction or the tie of trauma between them.

Buy Agent Under Siege at Amazon

Hit Me With Your Best Scot by Suzanne Enoch

Hit Me With Your Best Scot
February 2021; St. Martin's; 978-1250296429
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); Regency romance
Coll MacTaggart, Viscount Glendarril, hates being told what to do, especially by the mother that had left his family behind for England. But he has to marry an Englishwoman and dreaded the prospect until he meets Persephone Jones. She's beautiful, intelligent, and beguiling, but isn't interested in ever getting married. She's content to be an actress, hiding her true identity. When Coll discovers she's actually a lady and in hiding from someone wanting to kill her, his protective instinct stirs.

Following the other hilariously named novels in this series, It's Getting Scot In Here (read my review) and Scot Under The Covers (read my review), Hit Me With Your Best Scot addresses the marriage woes of Coll. He's the eldest son and gruffest of the three brothers, with no patience for the marriage mart, dissembling for the sake of propriety, or reputation. It's not necessary to read the first two books in the series, as all you need to know is worked into the conversations, but Coll is on a countdown. He has less than a month to marry an Englishwoman before his home in Scotland loses funds. His only loophole is that the contract said Englishwoman, not a noblewoman. 

Enter Persephone, an actress. She's famous but not socially appropriate, as actresses of the time were seen as little better than mistress material and only a step up from actual prostitutes. She has zero interest in such a thing, but the world has no idea. The arrangement she and Coll make is ridiculous, of course, and only serves to increase proximity and attraction. Adding in precarious situations and the need for protection draws Coll ever closer, even before he discovers the truth about her identity.

I enjoy the snark and give and take in their relationship. Coll never assumes he will dictate her future, and fully expects to be in London while she continues acting. He knows people assume he's stupid and plays it up to the hilt, but is shrewd about the things that really matter to him: home, family, the tenants that rely on his family for their livelihoods, and action over empty words. Persephone is the same way, for all that she's an actress, and her found family means as much to her as Coll's does to him. We have a wonderful ending for everyone involved, and glimpses of the bright future his brothers have as well.

The Rakehell of Roth by Amalie Howard

The Rakehell of Roth
February 2021; Entangled; 978-1682815151
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); Regency romance
The Marquess of Roth owns a notorious club, and his reputation as a rake keeps the customers coming. He left his wife behind in the countryside and uses the money to fund noble causes. His wife Isobel is tired of the rumors she hears from London and decides to meet her erstwhile husband. Both are determined not to give in to the other, but there's an attraction and a marriage between them.

This is the second of the Regency Rogues series, following The Beast of Beswick, but each novel stands alone. There's the tie to the first novel in that Isobel is the heroine's sister, but that's not important to know for this novel. We start with the wedding between Isobel and Winter; he runs cold because he needed to marry to satisfy a will, and Isobel wanted to avoid a lecher. After three years of being left in the country, Isobel was fed up enough to go to London. With her best friends in the country, she had penned a series of salacious posts that were printed in the paper. Her husband has no idea, as he had no contact with her at all since leaving on their wedding night.

I really enjoyed the back and forth of the verbal sparring between Isobel and Winter, and the bargain they had. Of course, Isobel wouldn't return to the countryside just on his say so, and his determination to remain alone and not have children is rather flimsy. Isobel stands up for herself and her own needs, and won't accept the excuses. She also knows her limits, and won't allow herself to be taken for granted. As is the case with romances, our hero has a reason for his guarded heart and has to be forced to see that holding himself back from family isn't a good idea. We have our happily ever after for our primary couple as well as our secondary one, and the big bad of the piece gets his comeuppance as deserved. This is a fun novel, and a great way to spend a dreary afternoon in winter.

Buy The Rakehell of Roth at Amazon

Trading Secrets by Rachael Eckles

Trading Secrets
May 2020; Aphrodite Books; 978-1734901818
ebook, print (318 pages); romantic suspense
Finance executive Celeste Donovan has a charmed life until her boyfriend Theodore is killed in a mysterious accident. She soon discovers that her abusive ex Omar is behind the death, and is willing to do anything to get to her, even involve her in a financial scandal. There is a secret society warring against Omar and his conspirators, and Celeste has to determine how far she’ll go to avenge Theodore and save the ones she loves.

Following the prologue, which felt out of place, we’re introduced to Celeste and her high powered friends, all male. There is a lot of name dropping, reinforcing that she is wealthy, beautiful, and privileged. She has flings, not relationships, and generally is abrasive and self-centered. That’s in keeping with the financial world that she lives and works in, which is dominated by self-centered men who call each other pricks as an endearment. In spite of that, she falls for Theodore and regards him as the love of her life. Interacting with him definitely softens her character, to the point that she actually talks to a therapist about it! Coupled with their romance is the threat of her ex coming after her, which is a looming specter that everyone talks about with Celeste and she doesn’t share with Theodore.

While this isn’t a world I know anything about or would be comfortable in, the details really set the stage. I like how Celeste is a woman in her 40’s and knows what she wants, then unapologetically goes for it. As soon as we meet Theodore, though, we’re treated to an in-depth look at Celeste’s relationship with Omar, and the demeaning way he treated her, nearly ruining her financially and tarnishing her reputation. It also doesn’t help that Omar graphically raped and brutalized her while drunk and high on cocaine, which leaves her with extensive injuries and triggered a miscarriage. This is all potentially triggering for some people, and the back and forth storyline means there was no warning for when it would happen.

The second half of the book goes into the takedown of Omar, but that’s not the end of the trauma and abuse that Omar offers up. In addition, it sometimes feels like scenes are missing when Celeste enacts her plan to frame him into a death sentence. There is certainly a lot of tension interspersed with more high-end names and talk of conspiracies. I don’t like Celeste any better; I had liked her when she wasn’t berating everyone in sight or demeaning them, and that was lost in some of the second half. I didn’t really enjoy her character or the story and found too many of the people in the book to be unlikable. Maybe it’s a consequence of being an international financier, but it’s a world I don’t enjoy any better getting to the end of this book. There are two others in a projected trilogy after this one, and I don’t plan on picking them up.

Buy Trading Secrets at Amazon

The Sword of Reckoning by Lea Schizas

The Sword of Reckoning
November 2020; MuseItUp; 978-1773920665
ebook, print (277 pages); paranormal romance
Detective Savannah Flowers became a homicide detective following a traumatic event that occurred fifteen years before. A current case makes her remember that horrific night, and it's soon clear that it has something to do with her. Greek demigod Leonidas Laskos has been protecting her without her knowledge; the Archangel Michael would punish him if he mistakenly helps Savannah remember who she truly is.

The Sword of Reckoning is the first book of the A.L.P. Legacy series, with the next out this month. We start out with Savannah brashly taking down a thief in arrest, then finding out she and her partner had been called because of a severed head that was found in the backyard. She'd always been the type to curse and speak her mind and was determined to be a better police officer than the one that couldn't find her friend Jenna, who had gone missing after the attack on them. That same determination is leading her to investigate the bodiless head in the yard, the headless body that turns up at her home, and then the mass grave with random body parts. It only gets weirder from there, too.

Some of the writing could be tightened a bit in another round of editing, but the story itself eventually picks up and it's less noticeable. It's probably more of a plot point issue that Savannah would go somewhere on her own to investigate without her partner, getting caught up in even more weirdness. I still raced through the book to find out what was happening next, since we have an interesting blend of Greek mythology and Biblical angels here. At first, it seems like the human deaths are the main focus, but we discover more about Savannah about halfway through the book and the larger issue that she has to deal with.

As the first book of a series, there has to be a lot of world-building and establishing the characters, their relationships, and their arcs. Here, it feels like there is too much going on. We have angels, demons, witches, vampires, were-creatures, dragons, prophets, reincarnation, and legendary weapons. The final quarter has more surprises in store but falls victim to Evil Overlord levels of monologuing. We're also subject to fainting and injuries at various stages so that a lot of events have to be explained to Savannah after the fact. It disrupts the flow of the story and breaks up the intrigue. Savannah should really be the one to piece together all of the clues, and other characters getting new sudden powers or abilities bothered me. Loose ends are neatly tied up at the end, with a hook for the second book.

Buy The Sword of Reckoning at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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