Part of the joy of romance (in real life and in fiction) is the fantasy of it — the glorious belief at the start of a relationship that there is such a thing as a perfect love story filled with wild passion and charming quirks, a time when your only worry is how you will survive your minutes apart. This month, three romances up the fantasy ante — adding celebrity heroes to the summer romance mix.
In 738 Days (Forge, $27.99), Stacey Kade turns a tale of trauma into a tale of love. Amanda Grace was abducted at the age of 15, chained in a dingy basement for 738 days — her only companion a poster of teen heartthrob Chase Henry (think Leonardo DiCaprio circa “Titanic”). Four years later, Amanda is returned to her childhood home, suffering from PTSD. Readers first see her curled up on the floor of her bedroom closet, working up the courage to go to her job at a supermarket. Meanwhile, Chase’s career is on the downswing, so much so that he’s talked into a misguided publicity stunt — surprising Amanda (who’d mentioned her fascination with him at a post-escape interview) at her workplace. The plan goes awry when Amanda has a flashback and flees. Chase’s apology turns into a lovely unexpected romance. Kade beautifully pivots the story away from Amanda’s past and focuses instead on the courage and strength she’s found in her new life. Chase’s past, benign in comparison to Amanda’s, nonetheless holds powerful sway over his present. In sharing it, Kade reminds us that we are all broken in our own way, and that wounds, public and private, take time, patience and love to heal.
Historical romance author Julie Anne Long begins her first contemporary romance series with Hot in Hellcat Canyon (Avon; paperback, $7.99), the story of a small-town waitress and a movie star. This is romantic fantasy at its purest, a contemporary fairy tale complete with a down-on-her-luck divorced heroine (Britt) and a dashing, handsome hero (JT) who will do whatever it takes to win her. There is a particular joy in romance novels in which two wonderful people find each other, and a well-deserved happily ever after, and this one delivers on all levels. JT and Britt are clever and funny, and the book has all the hallmarks of Long’s historical novels — charming secondary characters , delightful dialogue and a sigh-inducing ending. When a video of JT describing love as “like the first time anyone anywhere saw a movie in color” goes viral, even the most hardened of readers will find themselves sporting a silly grin.
Madeline Hunter offers another kind of celebrity hero with The Wicked Duke (Jove; paperback, $7.99). Lancelot Hemingford, the Duke of Aylesbury, is thought to have murdered his brother in order to secure title and fortune for himself. He has avoided the noose but is in miserable exile in the country. When Lance is offered the opportunity to exonerate himself and find his brother’s killer, he takes it, despite the fact that it means marrying Marianne Radley, the niece of a neighbor. What ensues is a classic marriage of convenience made all the better by an intriguing twist: Marianne nobly volunteers to marry the potentially deadly Lance to save her cousin and the rest of her family, and vows to prove her new husband’s guilt, too. Hunter is known for her brilliant, compelling heroines, and Marianne is one of her best. Eventually working together to clear Lance’s name, Marianne and the dark, brooding duke are an ideal match, and their discovery of mutual trust, passion and, finally, love makes “The Wicked Duke” an excellent read.
Sarah MacLean reviews romance monthly for The Washington Post and is the author, most recently, of “The Rogue Not Taken.”