HQN, 416 pp. $7.99
Alexandra Ivy Zebra, 368 pp. $7.99
It might come as a shock to those who don’t read romance novels, but readers aren’t always looking for fantasy in their books. Sure, every once in a while a story might give us a white knight on a noble steed, riding through hellfire to save his lady love, but the best romance is often realistic. The plots may be wild and the meet-cutes even wilder, but at its core, the most compelling tales are about real people finding real love.
Loretta Chase excels at turning romance into deeply felt stories driven by characters whose emotions ring true. Her latest, Dukes Prefer Blondes (Avon, paperback, $7.99),the fourth book in her Dressmakers series, is a marvelous example of Chase’s skill as a storyteller and proof that she remains one of the best writers in the genre. Lady Clara Fairfax is a darling of society, stunningly beautiful and perfectly raised — and tired of being thought of for nothing more than her good looks. When she takes on work with a children’s charity and finds a young boy in trouble, she enters the orbit of Oliver Radford, a barrister who unexpectedly and unwillingly inherits a dukedom. What ensues is a lingering, sensual romance set against a rich backdrop of pre-Victorian London in all its glamour and grime. This is romance as it should be: a lush tale that is really about much more than love — it’s about womanhood, social issues and happiness.
There is, perhaps, no author who captures the strange simplicity of romance better than Kristan Higgins. Her most recent Blue Heron book, Anything For You (HQN, paperback, $7.99) , follows Connor O’Rourke, who has been in love with Jessica Dunn for more than a decade and finally decides that he’s had enough of their secret, will-they-or-won’t-they romance. When he proposes and she politely declines, claiming she’s not the marrying kind, things go hilariously haywire. In the face of her refusal, Connor vows to get over Jess and move on, but these two are perfect for each other — if only Jess would throw caution to the wind and acknowledge it. Her fear of commitment is really a fear of rejection, something that destroys the possibilities of love in real life depressingly often. The best thing about romance novels, however, is that happily-ever-after almost always wins, and Higgins delivers a satisfying, funny love story that will leave readers sighing.
Rewarding, realistic romances even find their way into suspense novels. In Kill Without Mercy (Zebra, paperback, $7.99), the first in her Ares Security series, Alexandra Ivy offers readers five soldiers who together escaped from a Taliban prison and run an elite security firm. When his grandfather dies, Rafe Vargas heads to Newton, Iowa, to manage his estate, only to find himself in a town once devastated by a brutal serial killer — a man captured and killed 15 years earlier. In Newton, Rafe meets Annie White, the daughter of the killer, a woman who has begun having horrifying visions of killings similar to those of the original spree. When these visions foretell reality, Rafe and Annie join forces to track a new killer. This is a measured, honest love story, lacking the mad urgency that so often comes with suspense. There’s something powerfully romantic in the way Rafe and Annie remain keenly aware of each other’s safety, reminding us that though the course of true love never runs smoothly, a good partner will keep us safe from the roughest patches.
Sarah MacLean reviews romance monthly for The Washington Post and is the author, most recently, of “The Rogue Not Taken.”
DUKES PREFER BLONDES Loretta Chase Avon, 384 pp. $7.99