(Gallery Books)

Happiness in romance is hard won, often because happily ever after can begin only once fear and doubt are vanquished. The best romance novels lay characters bare, forcing them to face their insecurity and self-doubt. Three new romances beautifully depict the struggle for acceptance, hope and love.

The third book in Christina Lauren’s Wild Seasons series, Dark Wild Night (Gallery; paperback, $16), is a smart and sexy friends-to-lovers romance. Graphic novelist Lola and comic book store owner Oliver were married once, in a drunken mistake of a Vegas wedding. Riddled with fear and self-doubt, neither had the courage to admit that the wedding might have been precisely what they wanted. Lola is a particular gem — socially awkward and introverted. Her fear of being abandoned by those she loves makes for a deceptively simple, nuanced romance. Lola can’t believe that someone as wonderful as Oliver (he is rather wonderful) would ever love her, and Lauren (the pen name of writing team Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings) captures her insecurities in a powerful way that will hit close to home for many.

Sonali Dev offers a new twist on friends-to-lovers in The Bollywood Bride (Kensington; paperback, $15), a vibrant, emotional story of Ria Parkar, a Bollywood star with a carefully constructed persona designed to hide her tragic past. Ria spent childhood summers in the United States in idyllic happiness with Vikram Jathar. their friendship blossomed into love until Ria was forced to confront her past: a familial legacy of mental illness and its threat to their mutual happiness. Trying to protect Vikram, Ria returned to Mumbai with no explanation, until her cousin’s wedding brings her back to the States and forces her to confront long-stifled feelings. There is much about this book to love. Dev deftly weaves themes of family and friendship into a beautiful romance, setting the story against a backdrop of a massive Indian American wedding, all while tackling issues of mental illness, family expectations and celebrity. When Ria finally faces the doubts she has struggled with for a lifetime, readers will rejoice at the results.

Christi Caldwell’s Captivated by a Lady’s Charm (Caldwell; e-book, $3.99) offers us a hero in a devastating struggle with his past. Christian Villiers, newly minted Marquess of St. Cyr, is returned home from war suffering from PTSD and survivor guilt. He’s convinced that he could have prevented the tragic outcome of the Battle of Toulouse. In an attempt to make amends, St. Cyr employs a massive staff of wounded veterans — a staff he will be unable to pay if he does not find himself an heiress. Fortune hunting leads him into the path of scandalous Lady Prudence Tidemore, wealthy, but intelligent and charming as well — the kind of woman he could easily love. Love is not for St. Cyr, however, as he believes that his sins on the battlefield do not earn him happiness at home. Prudence, of course, has other ideas. Caldwell does not shy away from the emotional or physical pain of wounded warriors, and this book asks important questions about the impact of war while reminding us that love can sometimes be a remarkable salve.


Sarah MacLean reviews romance novels every month for The Washington Post.