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November 18, 2021

5 Great Romance Novels That Are Not Holiday Themed

by MK French

romance novels

For the last couple of months, there has been Christmas romance novel after holiday romance novle hitting shelves. And they are great fun to read, but they are kind of like sugar cookies and Christmas music. Wonderful as they are, you have to take a break every once in a while. Thankfully there have been plenty of non-holiday-themed romance novels coming out as well. Today, I share 5 recent and upcoming releases.

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Made in Heaven by Saz Vora

Made in Heaven
August 2021; Indie; 978-1838146528
ebook, print (284 pages); multicultural romance

Hema Pattni became an au pair in France as a way to escape her unhappy home in England. Hema is welcomed by the family and enjoys time with her student Amelie. When Rahul Raichura arrives at the estate, Hema is drawn to his magnetic personality. But sightings of a woman in black appear, and she begins to suspect that the family has more secrets than she does.

This novel is Jane Eyre restyled with a South Asian cultural twist and located between England and France. Saz Vora herself grew up in England with her own Gujarati Indian heritage and brought it into this book. Hema is gifted with languages, plagued by nightmares, and eager to leave a household where only one cousin seems to truly appreciate her presence. Dark skinned and with a disfigurement from the accident that claimed the lives of her parents, Hema bonds with her charge right away. She and Amelie can converse in several languages, and the oddities are there from the beginning: Hema is chided for asking what her boss did for a living, another staff member continually sneers at her, a secretive figure will only speak to that staff member, and Amelie says she recalls her mother even though she's supposed to be an orphan. The Jane Eyre flair is strong from the start and continues as the novel progresses.

I loved reading about the foods and the history that Hema brought with her, the prayers for lost family members, and the connections with the past that are still with her. She and Amelie bond, and Rahul is as drawn to her as she is to him. Nothing untoward happens, and the employer-employee line isn't formally crossed when other people at his country club comment on it. They zig-zag emotionally, and there is a hefty dose of colorism and ableism coming from those rich ladies as well as from Hema herself, as she internalized it over the years. This is an obstacle as much as the woman sneaking around the house and the cutting remarks that others make about Hema.

I think the Jane Eyre parallels work so well because of the conservative nature of Rahul's and Hema's families. As much as this takes place in modern day, there are still societal pressures to conform to, family members that must be impressed, and ties to extended family and community to maintain. This is very much like the societal ideas that Jane had to live with in the original novel. Hema won't let herself be pushed around, and still has a strong sense of self-worth that the external pressures couldn't dim. I understand the different cultural pulls, and how hard it is to ignore her culture of origin as she lives in a modern Western world. The balance she strikes can only be reached with love, forgiveness of the past hurts, and the drive to keep pushing forward. Hema earns her happily ever after, getting everything she ever wanted.

Buy Made in Heaven at Amazon
(Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read the ebook for free)

The Brightest Star in Paris by Diana Biller

The Brightest Star in Paris
October 2021; Griffin; 978-1250297877
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); historical romance

Amelie St. James is known as "Saint Amie," the prima ballerina of the Paris Opera Ballet in 1878. She keeps the virtuous and pious facade in place to secure her fragile position as prima ballerina so she can take care of her eleven-year-old sister. Her persona is shaken when she sees Dr. Benedict Moore for the first time in twelve years; their summer romance had been innocent, but the love persists. Amelie is haunted by a ghost and Ben wants to recruit physicians for a specialty clinic he wants to build in New York. Their lives are on completely separate trajectories, aren't they?

Amelie is a hard worker and has to be in order to maintain her prima ballerina status. That fame comes with a price, as it's a punishing and incredibly physically demanding job. She's pushing herself through, convinced that she can endure it for another two years. Seeing Ben again by accident rekindles their old feelings; she had sent him away so he could return to medicine and she could focus on her dancing. We find out later that her faith in love and relationships had been shaken in that period, and she endured hardships all on her own when her mother fell ill, war broke out, and she did whatever she had to do to keep herself and her baby sister fed. Ben had struggled with memories of his duties as a field surgeon in the American Civil War and hadn't felt he could confide in his famous scientific family.

These two had a connection in the past, which we see in flashback chapters, and it was a strong enough one to endure for twelve years of no contact. Amelie is able to negotiate her way through the social layers of Paris, always keeping her sister in mind. I find this admirable, and it's sad that she has no friends to notice when she starts talking to the ghost that haunts her other than Ben. In a time period fascinated with mesmerism, Amelie doesn't question her sanity, at least. She and Ben work together to discover why she's being haunted under the guise of courtship; the proximity forces them to see how well they get along now, and how much they still care about each other.

I really enjoyed this look into 1800's Paris, medicine, and the way traumatic pasts inform their present. Ben and Amelie never take each other to task for the choices they made under duress. They understand it and support the people that they are now; if anything, Amelie is clearly the star of the book and Ben is there to love and support her. She has to make the breakthrough that the past is not a continual predictor of the future, and she has every right to be happy on her own, not just as an aside in someone else's story. I loved seeing the Moores and enjoyed the interactions and how neatly Amelie fit into their family's lives. Together, they know what they're getting into, and work hard to help each other succeed. That's the greatest conclusion for a romance novel.

Donut Fall in Love by Jackie Lau

Donut Fall in Love
October 2021; Berkley; 978-0593334300
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); rom-com

Ryan Kwok has returned to Toronto after the promo tour for his latest rom-com film. Between the constant work and his mother's death, he's overdue for time off. His father won't actually talk to him, instead trolling him on Twitter, so he's off to a rocky start in town. That's worse when he knocks over two dozen specialty donuts that Lindsay Macleod made. There's an instant spark of attraction, which grows when Ryan asks her to teach him to bake when he signs up for a reality baking show.

Jackie Lau writes fun contemporary rom-coms, and somehow she manages to sneak in delicious foods. This time, it's a starring role because Lindsay bakes such delicious-sounding donuts! She's mixed Asian, working hard at the bakery, and doesn't even recognize Ryan when they crash into each other. It's a messy kind of meet-cute, which is adorable to read. Ryan is still grieving while his latest movie was panned and he only seems to be famous for his abs on social media. The references are funny and undercut the pain of his reticent father bailing on anything vaguely resembling emotions.

Both Lindsey and Ryan are plagued by insecurities, and we have the very serious themes of parental loss, grieving children, and postpartum depression in Ryan's sister. They're gently and respectfully handled as part of their lives and a way to showcase who they are as people; these very serious topics are not treated as silly stumbling blocks to romance, but a way to really bring home that emotions of all kinds are important. Communication is key in any romance, but especially here when Ryan and Lindsey have multiple hurdles to face together. They're adorable when dating and teasing each other through the baking lessons, as well as when the relationship really develops. I'm very happy that all of the emotional threads come together at the end. They were really fun people to read about and spend time with.

Buy Donut Fall in Love at Amazon

To Covet a Countess by Sapna Bhog

To Covet a Countess
November 2021; Indie; 979-8760513588
ebook, print (300 pages); Regency romance

Nicholas Delmore, Earl of Hawksley, wasn't expecting to see someone trying to break into his friend's home or have a knife pulled on him by a beautiful woman. Sania left India with her younger sister to avoid the army officer stalking her and threatening to possess her. The two are drawn to each other from the start, but Nicholas doesn't feel worthy of marriage and Sania won't accept any of the racist nobility as a spouse. When her past arrives in London, will their connection survive?

I don't often see Regency romances featuring people of color, so I immediately wanted to see this. London of the period hadn't been purely white, but the genre focuses on the nobility and doesn't mention how diverse the population actually was at the time. Here, Sania left India hoping to stay with her cousin, a mixed woman that married very well in the first novel of the Elusive Lords series. I didn't read that one, but I loved what I saw of Lara and her husband. They're a great couple together in the background of Nicholas and Sania's romance and are supportive friends for both of them. Sania isn't physically strong, but she has a lot of spirit and strength of character. She'd have to, in order to work and support her sister and uncle in India, then run away looking for her cousin when her situation was too dire there. She isn't willing to settle for scraps of attention, and I love that about her.

Nicholas is an earl sure that he isn't a worthwhile or good person, despite all of the good he does. He's a sensitive man, which is why he came to Sania's and Isha's rescue from the start. It's also why he can admit he's in love, which is usually difficult for romantic heroes, but also why he pushes Sania away at first. Overcoming his own perception of self is a huge hurdle in this romance, and we all know that what we think of ourselves lingers long after we think we've conquered the thoughts. I appreciated that the effort is shown and that both Sania and Nicholas truly care for each other. They get along as friends, are physically attracted, and want the best for themselves and their love. These foundations allow their love to grow over the course of the novel, and I enjoyed reading it.

Buy To Covet a Countess at Amazon

Finding Paradise by Barbara Dunlop

Finding Paradise
November 2021; Berkley; 978-0593332986
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); small town romance

Marnie Anton is an LA-based lawyer caught up in her best friend's idea of playing matchmaker for the men of Paradise, Alaska. Twelve women interested in meeting the men and possibly relocating to Alaska are selected for the first run of this matchmaking program, and they ask Marnie to tag along. Against her better judgment, she does. There she meets Cobra, ex-Air Force, and hesitant to think this scheme will work. The two bond almost instantly, and neither of them is what the other thinks they would be.

I enjoyed seeing the friendship that Marnie and Mia have, that even if they don't see eye to eye about living in Alaska and leaving behind the big city life, they still support and love each other. The landscapes in Alaska are beautifully described, as are the moments that help Marnie and Cobra connect. She's the odd one out of her family by going into law when her family was concerned with being off-grid and having survivalist knowledge, he's the odd one out of his family by not being a white-collar professional. As much as they don't want to take part in the matchmaking festivities, they get along very well, and Mia convincing Marnie to stay longer only allows them more time to get to know each other. Cobra is there for Marnie when stressed, and is also a source of stress for her; he loves it in Alaska and she loves being in a big city and letting her career take off. The discussions they had felt very real and heartfelt, so that I was right there with them when they inevitably separated before their reconciliation and happily ever after after.

This is the second Paradise, Alaska novel, but I hadn't read the first one. I suspect it's Mia's story, given that they're the first couple between the big city woman and small-town man and are the template for the matchmaking program that set up this novel. I don't miss anything from starting with this story, and Mia's romantic model seems like any other bit of backstory for our heroine. I had a lot of fun reading this book, and I think you will, too.

Buy Finding Paradise 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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