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by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

September 27, 2021

8 Novels for Romance Readers

by MK French

Any time of year is a good time for a romance novel. No matter what subgenre of romance you enjoy, I'm sure you will find something you will enjoy in this round-up. Many of them hit bookstore shelves tomorrow so get our wishlist to add these titles. And if you are ready to start reading Christmas romance, I've included a new anthology from three terrific Regency romance authors.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

When Sparks Fly by Helena Hunting

When Sparks Fly
September 2021; St. Martin's Griffin; 978-1250624703
audio, ebook, print (320 pages); romantic comedy

Avery Spark has a great life with her friends, her sisters, and Spark House, the special events hotel that her family runs. After she's left to recover from an accident, her best friend and roommate help her heal. The two always hung out and didn't bother with romantic relationships before, but now they're in close proximity with compromising situations. The attraction they never discussed before now becomes too strong to ignore.

I liked how Avery had a great relationship with her sisters and her guy friends, in addition to Declan. He had some jealous tendencies that he didn't really verbalize, but it was obvious to their other friends. This led to him bailing on the trip that Avery was so invested in, and Avery took off driving in the rain despite her fear of it after her parents' death from a car accident. She's in an accident herself, with an arm and a leg casted as well as broken ribs and bruises everywhere. She can't maneuver to do anything, from walking to going to the bathroom, and Declan goes out of his way to help her with everything because of his guilt. That help extends to manually assisting her to orgasm after he accidentally walked in on her masturbating, and it was all downhill from there.

Declan's behavior went from overly solicitous to jealous rapidly, which was the inevitable complication to their romance. As much as Avery conceded she was wrong in talking with her ex, his reaction was over the top and I agreed with her that she shouldn't accept his behavior. It's on Declan to make sure he gets over himself and his insecurities, and he works through them in therapy in the final quarter of the book. It allows him to reconnect with Avery while in a healthier place so that they can have an actual relationship again. I really appreciate the message that sends, and how normal it is for everyone to work through emotional difficulties and stress with a therapist. Everyone can use a little help when they are stressed, and it helps Declan be a better person. In turn, it helps him be a better boyfriend and truly connect to Avery. I'm glad they could work through this and have the relationship they truly deserve.

Buy When Sparks Fly at Amazon

Kissing Under the Mistletoe by Suzanne Enoch; Amelia Grey; Anna Bennett

Kissing Under the Mistletoe
September 2021; St. Martin's; 978-1250797445
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); holiday romance

Three Regency romance authors came together for this book, a collection of three Christmas novellas.

"Great Scot!" by Suzanne Enoch follows Miss Jane Bansil, a companion for the MacTaggert family, is stuck in Scotland for the holiday and meets a MacTaggert cousin. Even if you haven't read the other books written about the MacTaggert family, it's easy enough to read this companion story. Jane is anxious and continually fears the worst, especially after her own family treated her poorly. Brennan Andrews is a widower and talented architect, so the need to build a new house for the growing MacTaggert family brings him to the estate. The two are fascinated with each other. The family are all supportive of Jane and Brennan together, with no intention of either of them getting left behind when it comes to love.

"Christmas at Dewberry Hollow" by Amelia Gray follows Miss Isabelle Reed, who had no plans to marry when she meets Gate, the Duke of Notsgrave’s grandson. Isabelle had been hurt years ago when a man promised to marry her mother and be her new father, then took off. As a result, she doesn't believe in the promises men make when they come to the inn her mother runs, including Gate. For his part, as a younger relation not destined to inherit the dukedom, he never had to be serious before. The two balance each other out nicely in order to reach their happily ever after.

"My Mistletoe Beau" by Anna Bennet follows Miss Eva Tiding, who breaks into the Earl of Frostbough's home to steal back her father's pocket watch and must pose as his fiancée to get it when she's caught. Jack was standoffish in Town but loves his grandmother, who kept pushing him to get married. He and Eva have great snark and chemistry as well as physical attraction. This makes him reconsider staying single, and the two have to move from opponents to friendly rivals to lovers over the course of the novel.

I enjoyed books by these three authors separately, so reading this book was absolutely a no-brainer! They're short happily ever after stories, with love winning out over anxiety, suspicion, and loneliness. It's a perfect read if you enjoy Regency romance novels.

A Reckless Match by Kate Bateman

A Reckless Match
September 2021; St. Martin's; 978-1250801562
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); Regency romance

The Davies and Montgomery families have hated each other for generations. Madeline Montgomery once had a crush on Gryffud Davies, but he left for London and she was sure he'd never return. An illegal duel forces his return to Wales, and both have changed since the days of their childish teasing.

The Montgomery family is down on their luck, so Madeline's father considers the local magistrate's offer of paying him for the privilege of marrying her. Madeline knows she'll be unhappy, given her penchant for archaeological digs; this means that she and Gryffud explore a cave system on their families' joint property. This is how they find smugglers, and both feel personally responsible enough to bring justice to the area. The two are in close company, seeing the good in each other as well as the frustration; their banter is really fun to read, as is the growing bond between them.

With this as a romance novel, we know that all will be well in the end. Both of these stubborn people will admit their true feelings, the Montgomery family will be brought back from the brink of financial ruin, and the smugglers will be caught. It's how it happens that's the fun of reading this, and I absolutely devoured this book to read the end of it. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to future books.

Buy A Reckless Match at Amazon

It Started with a Dog by Julia London

It Started with a Dog
September 2021; Berkley; 978-0593100400
audio, ebook, print (352 pages); romantic comedy

Harper has always been an overachiever and has been working herself ragged to please her boss and open a flagship Deja Brew coffeehouse. When going to visit her parents for the holidays, she accidentally mixes up phones with Jonah, an aerospace engineer also traveling and had been helping with his family's coffee shop while on sabbatical. When they realize the mixup, they text each other and eventually meet in person. Sparks fly, even after they discover that the two coffee shops are across the street from each other. How can they make this work?

I liked the meet-cute aspect of this contemporary romance; as improbable as it sounds to mix up phones, many people do have similar cases and model phones, and they were in a rush to get going because they were traveling on Christmas Eve. Each has their hangups: Harper is an only child whose parents had her late in life when they didn't initially intend on having children, so she was always an overachiever. Jonah feels compelled to help his family, especially after his sister's death years ago and his father's current cancer diagnosis. They bond immediately, with a lot of fun text exchanges and snarky comments. This occurs even prior to meeting and spending time with each other, and prior to discovering exactly what their current businesses were.

Woven into this book is the theme of dogs and rescues; it's based on a real event in San Antonio, though this takes place in Austin. Multiple businesses sponsor rescue dogs to raise money for the shelter. Harper was drawn to Jonah partly because of his dog, who featured so prominently on his phone, and her own need to connect because she feels so isolated. Her boss is a piece of work, but she keeps pushing herself to achieve even more. Ultimately, she and Jonas both have to decide what's important to them, and how to make their future work out. I like that their differences and needs are something they can talk about, and even if they fight, they're able to resolve the problem. It's a real-world solution they have, and I appreciate that there's no automatic happily ever after to fix everything without their effort. This is a cute contemporary romance, and a fun read... especially with a cup of coffee.

Buy It Started with a Dog at Amazon

Sweet Love by Lauren Accardo

Sweet Love
September 2021; Berkley; 978-0593200315
audio, ebook, print (320 pages); romance

Mila Bailey's great-aunt leaves her the entry fee to the Pine Ridge Spring Bake-Off, and she is determined to prove she can compete with top-level bakers. She's also developing for her best friend, Jared Kirkland, who wants to eventually leave Pine Ridge. Though a spark exists between them, their future goals lie in very different directions.

This is book two in the Forever Adirondacks series, and I didn't read the first one. That in no way lessened my enjoyment of this book. Starting off with a feeling of dread at the thought of a "forever home" or a long-term relationship, we meet Jared and see his continual drive to do better and be more. A lot of that was instilled in him by a mother who demanded much and had never been happy with his efforts; many an overachiever reading this will identify with his feelings on the matter. Mila, on the other hand, loves seeing the stars at night and knowing people in town. It's an obvious contrast, setting up the inevitable choice they would have to make if acting on the physical attraction they have for each other.

Even before possible romance kicks in, I really enjoy the friendship that Mila and Jared have. They've known each other a long time but can still learn new things about each other, and encourage each other to follow their dreams. Mila tends to get anxious and withdraw in times of stress, and family and friends really push her out of her comfort zone in a good way, making her see that she's worth the effort and should believe in herself. When the romance starts, it's an added layer that eases and then complicates the relationship they already have. The only thing to fix it is honest communication and self-reflection. Once they know what they want, it's easier to decide that they can't settle for anything less. There's still going to be work to do once the two decide to be together, but they have a great foundation to build from.

Buy Sweet Love at Amazon

Last Seen Alone by Laura Griffin

Last Seen Alone
September 2021; Berkley; 978-0593197363
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); romantic suspense

Attorney Leigh Larson isn't afraid to go after all the sleazy targets extorting her clients. Austin homicide detective Brandon Reynolds is facing an unusual crime scene where a pool of blood suggests murder, but the body is missing. The car nearby is registered to the presumed victim, with only a smear of blood and a business card for Leigh Larson. The two now must work together to chase down a ruthless criminal who is out for vengeance.

Leigh definitely goes above and beyond for her clients and gets so drawn into Vanessa's disappearance that she puts herself at risk. At the same time, she was right when she told Brandon that some people are more willing to talk with a lawyer than with a police officer. The two of them try to share information without compromising their professional codes of ethics, which I appreciated seeing. When they do begin a relationship, there is a push and pull of attraction and the need to protect their careers as well as each others' safety. They're both good people, which puts them into difficult situations when the disappearance and possible homicide veers off into entirely new territory. It was not a direction I expected from the start of the story but made perfect sense.

I was completely enthralled with the thriller aspect of this romantic thriller, but Leigh and Brandon do have great chemistry. The relationship they build runs counterpoint to the one they uncover that Vanessa had in the past, and they are able to talk through the conflicts they have and what their needs are. Both acknowledge messy romantic pasts and that they're driven professionals. They respect that about each other and want to put in the work to make their relationship a real one. I appreciated that and how well they worked together to bring the novel to a satisfying conclusion.

Buy Last Seen Alone at Amazon

The Scoundrel's Daughter by Anne Gracie

The Scoundrel's Daughter
August 2021; Berkley; 978-0593200544
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); Regency romance

Alice, Lady Charlton, is free of her husband, but a scoundrel is blackmailing her with letters that could ruin her. To keep silent, Alice must find a noble husband for his daughter Lucy. For her part, Lucy wants nothing to do with the plan. Alice enlists her nephew Gerald to help find the letters, and Gerald enlists his former commanding officer Lord Tarrant to help him. Lord Tarrant is interested in Alice and Gerald is interested in Lucy, but both women aren't currently interested in marriage.

Lucy tries to be as obnoxious as possible in the beginning, not believing that Alice would genuinely help her; her experience with the nobility so far is only being mocked for her station in life, which she couldn't help. Alice is mocked relentlessly by her sister-in-law and has no interest in getting married again when her last one had been loveless and demeaning. They become allies of a sort quickly, and the two heroes of the story have to overcome their negative views. Gerald is obnoxious right back to Lucy, and their sniping and comments back and forth become something of a courtship. James and Alice, on the other hand, are friends first. He's taken with her quiet grace and kindness, especially to the daughters he picks up from the boarding school their grandparents sent them to. I enjoyed their storyline the best and found their love to be more compelling and realistic. Gerald and Lucy clashed too much before they came to an agreement, which suddenly morphed into realized love.

This is a romance, however, and love wins in the end. Lucy is appreciated for who she is and the skills she brings to the table, and Alice gets a loving husband and a family that appreciates her. James is gentle and patient with Alice once he understands her fears, and Gerald is able to listen to the truth even when he didn't realize he wasn't listening in the beginning. It's an earned happily ever after, and one that was fun to read.

Admonition by Kathryn Amurra

June 2021; Indie; 979-8513706823
ebook, print (302 pages); historical romance

Sabina believes her words will hurt those she loves and takes a vow of silence following the death of her husband. Others around her don't understand, and think she's cursed; Sabina would rather avoid society and the drama of Rome's inner circles. Lucius, for all that a soothsayer warned him to avoid a pretty face that hides a cursed soul, is drawn to her. Lucius is heir to the empire and the target of a political plot, forcing Sabina to decide if speaking will save his life or seal his fate.

Admonition won the Georgia Romance Writers' 2020 Maggie Award for Excellence in the Unpublished Historical Romance category. This is also in the same universe as her prior novel Soothsayer, so that readers will know exactly what the canceled wedding refers to, and will recognize the soothsayer Tullia when she's mentioned. If you haven't read that one, don't worry! That doesn't really affect this novel's characters or trajectory at all. We focus on Sabina and Lucius, and the people in their orbit: Sabina's younger stepsister Priscilla, Cyprian, and Thaddeus, as well as other family members. Cyprian is ambitious and selfish, planning to wine and dine Priscilla for his own pleasures, and assumes that Lucius would do the same in order to be named heir to the throne. Thaddeus had lusted after Sabina even when her husband was alive, and is willing to connive and threaten in order to have power over Sabina and force her into his household.

Cyprian and Thaddeus aren't good men, and you're not meant to sympathize with them at all. I definitely can't, because I find them skeevy and predatory, for all that the public sees their charming side and doesn't recognize the menace that they carry. Because this is a romance novel, I know they'll get their comeuppance. They do, and it's fitting for the behavior that they had throughout the novel. Selfish ambition isn't rewarded here, only love and care for others. Sabina cares so much for others and finally gets a chance at happiness herself. I was cheering her on throughout the novel and was pleased with the conclusion.

Buy Admonition 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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