My historical romance slump has been quite a thing so apologies for the fact that it’s been almost three years since the last time I had a post like this. Double apologies for the fact that in all this time, I’ve still not branched too far from Regency London. It’s a goal for me because I’m hoping I’ll be able to write another post by the end of the year and have a lot more variety and voices from outside of the regency. As it is, I do have five that aren’t Regency so it’s not all a wash. But regardless, let’s get to it.
Loyal League Series by Alyssa Cole
At the end of my first list, I said something along the lines of, I haven’t read Alyssa Cole yet, but from all that I’ve heard, I’m putting her on this list anyway. Well. First of all, good job me, because that was the correct thing to do, but also An Extraordinary Union, which is the first book in Cole’s Loyal League series, is one of the best books I’ve ever read and the other two books rounding out the trilogy do not disappoint either. The Loyal League series follows spies for the Loyal League, a real organization that utilized mostly Free Black people and some white allies to infiltrate spaces that white Unionists would likely not have had the ability to do. These books are really excellent romance novels and Elle and Malcom remain my favorites, but also each of these books shows you the stakes and run you through the WRINGER emotionally, and also you’re not always sure how an HEA could possibly happen. Especially in the third book, An Unconditional Freedom, which features Daniel (Elle’s friend who was kidnapped by bounty hunters and sold into slavery despite being a freedman and then purchased by the Loyal League) and Janeta Sanchez, (a woman sent by the Confederacy to infiltrate the Loyal League, who has to unlearn a lot that she was taught and really be able to take ownership of her life and her beliefs and be able to fully live out her life as who she is). If you haven’t already heard me shout on Twitter and Instagram about the Shelf Love podcast with Katrina Jackson talking about An Unconditional Freedom, do yourself a favor and go listen to it as soon as you can. It’s so smart and makes you feel smart because of it. The historical analysis is incredible and the way they (Angela and Katrina) talk about the work Alyssa is doing in this book just… I mean, it certainly sounds a million times more coherent than the word vomiting I’m doing right now. So, tl;dr, read the Loyal League series if you haven’t already and when you’re done, check out Alyssa’s historical novellas for more looks at times in American history we don’t get to see very often in romance novels.
The Duke I Tempted by Scarlett Peckham
This was the best historical romance novel I read last year. The angst in this book is absolutely incredible and I now understand why everyone raved about it in 2018. I will say that this book is angstier than what running away from your problems might entail for some of you, but not for me. I was able to lose myself entirely into this book and that is the greatest escapism I can offer you. Following Poppy Cavendish and the Duke of Westmead, neither of whom are interested in marrying (again in the latter’s case), but who are drawn to one another anyway, this book looks at what it means to let yourself trust someone with who you are and what you want. It’s an incredible book and I cannot wait to read the third in the series, The Lord I Left on January 28th.
Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan
This sapphic love story between two older women (like in their 70s?) that involves literally burning down patriarchal institutions is the greatest fantasy I could possible provide. Like… What is better than that? Mrs. Martin has a terrible nephew (and he is just straight up terrible) and she sets out to ruin him with the help of Violet Beauchamps, Terrible Nephew’s former landlady. And the two of them are truly excellent women and everything about this book is marvelous. I cannot recommend it more highly.
The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe
My current favorite historical romance of this year (it is the only, thus far, but don’t let that fool you), The Rogue of Fifth Avenue is set in Gilded Age New York City and it’s a delightful feminist romp, which gave me immense joy. I also stand by the fact that I’m likely to expire if I don’t hurry up and read The Prince of Broadway, which is book two, but that’s neither here nor there. Mamie Green is our leading lady and when the book opens, her father’s lawyer watches her pick pocket a rich man playing the roulette wheel in a casino she’s definitely not supposed to be in. Frank Tripp has no idea why she’s doing this as she’s definitely not hurting for money, but it turns out Mamie is playing Lady Robin Hood, essentially, and using the money she pick pockets to provide charity to the families the Christian charities won’t support. It’s… such a great book. I think there’s a tendency in books like this to really denigrate the choices poor people makes and Shupe is careful not to do that here and uses Tripp’s background (he grew up very poor and now pretends to have a whole new background) and his distance from it to explicitly challenge some of that. It’s a fantastic book and I loved it so much.
This Earl of Mine by Kate Batemann
I actually have an ARC review of this book and The Widow of Rose House, which is the next book, already posted on my blog so check that out if you want more info. But basically, this book was a really fun take on a traditional Regency and twisting a whole lot of tropes. Georgiana needs to keep her fortune firmly away from her trash can of a cousin and so she sets out to marry a man about to be hanged to achieve her goal. Unfortunately, when she arrives at the prison, that man has already been killed by the government and she gets stuck with a man who is supposed to be shipped off to Australia instead. That man is our hero, Ben (aka Benedict Wylde, aka a spy for the Crown), and Georgina definitely cannot escape him when he strolls into a ballroom a few days later. There are a few CWs for this one though (at the moment, I can only remember the attempted sexual assault and kidnapping), but I think those are listed in my ARC review.
The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller
As I said previously, there’s an ARC review of this book on the blog, which is absolutely magnificent (the book, not the post) and I love Sam and Alva so incredibly much. Alva starts out this book just trying to do her own thing now that she’s a widow and shrouded in scandal and the thing she wants is to put together a design book for regular people. Sam happens to overhear her talking about the home she’s purchased and he desperately wants a tour because it’s supposedly haunted. He’s adorable and wonderful and not at all put off by the fact that Alva has trust issues that are at least a mile high and wide, but he’s not pushy in a way that would make her uncomfortable either. Eventually, she does turn to him for some assistance and their romance is electric! I cannot wait for whatever Biller writes next. Can you believe this was her debut??
What a Difference a Duke Makes by Lenora Bell
Okay, this was my first Lenora Bell and I thought it would break me of my historical curse because I loved it so much. It did not live up to that lofty hope, but it is a marvelous book and I really hope to read more from Bell soon. This follows Mari, who’s hired as a governess to watch the Duke of Banksford’s twins (I don’t remember if they’re his or his wards…) and the Duke wants to be a much better parent than what he actually is. Mari is really good with the girls though and if you liked Tessa Dare’s The Governess Game, this book certainly won’t disappoint. Also, the sequel bait in this one was really lovely and I can’t believe I still haven’t read For the Duke’s Eyes Only.
Star Dust by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner
A romance novel set during the Space Race? Yes, please. I really loved the setting of this one and just the uniqueness of getting a romance novel set during this period. It’s interesting too because our leading lady is a divorced woman with two kids and that was not really an acceptable status in 1962. Anne-Marie wasn’t really expecting that her next door neighbor would be the gorgeous man from the LIFE magazine and also an astronaut, but Commander Kit Campbell is her neighbor and he keeps trying to be neighborly. I loved the hesitancy Anne-Marie has about getting involved with this man and I loved seeing Kit with the kids. I really want to continue reading in this series. Fingers crossed I will continue sooner rather than later!
Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean
I know that Sarah MacLean was on my list last time (and okay, yes, so was Courtney Milan), but listen, it’s been nearly three years and Sarah’s writing a whole different series now! Brazen & the Beast was probably my second favorite historical romance novel of last year, maybe first, it depends on what kind of mood I’m in. It’s weird to say this book is lighter than The Duke I Tempted because Brazen is definitely not the most chill book, but it has an adventurous component and also there’s no way to read Hattie’s story and not feel invigorated and ready to take on the world. Hattie is all set to go and get rid of her virginity so she can finally put the nail in the coffin in her dad’s stupid plan to marry her off rather than give her the shipping company he’s built when she discovers Beast unconscious and tied up in her carriage. Their interactions are literally everything and oh my, this book… Just. It’s great, y’all. Highly recommend.
Indigo by Beverly Jenkins
My first book from Ms. Bev and it’s a good one. If you don’t trust my opinion, maybe you’ll trust Sarah MacLean and Jen Prokop’s? The Fated Mates episode about this book is pretty excellent. Hester Wyatt escaped slavery as a child and now runs a stop on the Underground Railroad. She gets stuck hiding an injured man known as the “Black Daniel” and finds herself extremely drawn to her injured patient. Turns out, he’s Galen Vachon, a member of an extremely wealthy family in New Orleans. The two of them are indelibly drawn to one another and I absolutely loved reading about them. This book is older, it’s one of her earliest novels, I think, so there are a few elements that don’t hold up quite as well in 2020 as they did in 1996, but mostly, the book still works so, so well. Highly recommend.
These ten books are some of my favorites that I’ve read since 2017. Since you know that I’ve missed many historical romance novels in that time, feel free to share with me your favorites for escaping from this reality. I think 2020 may require these reads more than ever.