Love comes when you least expect it. It’s the adage of sage grandmothers, giving hope and not a small amount of frustration to millions of lonely and broken hearts the world over. Romance often rises from the ashes, a reminder that alongside tragedy, we often find joy. This month, three romances blossom in harsh times, proving all those grandmas right.
In Take Me Home Tonight (Berkley; paperback, $7.99), Erika Kelly tells a beautiful, hard-won tale about finding love after tragedy. Calix Bourbon was a budding rock star when his youngest brother died of an accidental overdose at a music festival. Three years later, Calix is living on the east end of Long Island as a studio musician for a popular rock band, shouldering tremendous guilt over his brother’s death. Enter Mimi Romano, the band’s private chef, eager to prove her talent to her father, one of the most successful restaurateurs in the world. Calix and Mimi are perfect foils: His dark seriousness doesn’t stand a chance in the face of Mimi’s unbridled optimism. Calix fails again and again to take a risk on their clearly perfect relationship, too afraid of what it might do to the tenuous threads of the rest of his life. But Mimi sees the truth and does not hesitate to fight for their mutual happiness. The book is emotional and tremendously sexy, with a large cast of characters that readers will adore — Kelly’s rendering of Calix’s grieving parents is particularly well-done — but it is Mimi’s strength that will linger long after the finish.
The fantasy world of Marian Perera’s The Beast Prince (Samhain; e-book, $4.50) is so bleak, it seems impossible for love to thrive there. A century ago, a lost tribe of humans discovered a land ruled by a brotherhood of Earth Princes, the product of an earth goddess and a human father. The princes can assume both human form and the form of anything created by the earth — lava, soil, sand, gemstones — a quality that makes them terrifying and wildly destructive to human settlers. When an Earth Prince is sighted on the outskirts of Avalon, the captain of the town’s guard, sharpshooter Katsumi “Kat” Ito, is sent to appease the beast. Kat finds the prince, Marus, in his human form and unexpectedly calm. Marus, it turns out, has lost his powers and is hiding from his ruthless brothers. Struggling to survive, Kat and Marus fall in love in a way that’s emotional and evocative despite the desolate world Perera has built for them. The novel has a dark, eerie, fairy-tale feel. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, the story is tremendously provocative, with an ending that offers hope of a brighter future.
Perhaps the hardest-won love is one that must be recaptured. In her latest historical romance, Six Degrees of Scandal (Avon; paperback, $7.99), Caroline Linden tackles this particular challenge. A decade ago, James “Jamie” Weston promised Olivia Townsend love and marriage and then left to find the fortune that would ensure their happily ever after. When he returned, however, he found Olivia in a loveless marriage arranged by her impoverished father. After her husband dies, Olivia is pursued by a villain who is certain that her late husband has left clues to a hidden treasure. Olivia has no choice but to turn to Jamie to help her flee and find the truth. There is never any doubt that Olivia and Jamie remain deeply in love, but it is nonetheless enthralling to follow them as they overcome the pain of the past and learn to trust each other and to believe in love once more. Linden does not rush this epiphany, even as the two are escaping villains, discovering secrets and risking all. The heart of the story is Jamie and Olivia’s partnership as they stand together to fight a common enemy. Their bond serves as a powerful, welcome reminder that, no matter the challenges, love will triumph.
Sarah MacLean reviews romance monthly for The Washington Post and is the author, most recently, of “The Rogue Not Taken.”