Hockey, House Parties, and Taxidermy: A Romance Novels Round-Up

The time has come, the walrus said, for another romance novels round-up! I know you’ve been yearning for it. This election season was difficult, the results were worse, and these last few months more than ever I’ve needed cuddly tropey fluff to get me through.

Hard Knocks

Ruby Lang is a new-to-me author I discovered through the wonderful Romance Novels for Feminists (which has never yet steered me wrong), and I received Hard Knocks for review consideration from the publisher. Hard Knocks is about a hockey player nearing the end of his career (Adam) and a neurologist (Helen) who thinks he’s cute when he brings his friend in for a concussion check-up but does not think much of all the brain damage sports can wreak upon their players.

Oh how I love discovering a new romance author whose books are just right for me. Hard Knocks is witty and charming, with banter between the leads that is also witty and charming (in the way that so many romance novels try and fail to have their banter be, i.e., effortlessly), and I’m delighted that there’s another book in the series for me to read.1 Things I particularly loved include how angry Helen is (I love angry heroines); the fact that nobody gives a crap that she sleeps with Adam casually; frank discussion of finances (so rare); and how angry Helen is.

Did I say one of those twice? I really love angry heroines. I can already tell that Ruby Lang’s going to be one of my go-to romance authors–very much recommended!

Do You Want to Start a Scandal, Tessa Dare
Do You Want to Start a Scandal, Tessa Dare

Charlotte Highwood creeps into the library to let Lord Granville know that she absolutely does not intend to let her mother entrap them into marrying — and kind of gets entrapped into marrying him. She’s determined to find them both a way out of it. He’s a spy. Everyone’s stuck at this manor house for one of those house parties where people are so nosy and everyone is maybe creeping away to do assignations.

Frankly, this is a delight from cover to cover. I love and revel in angsty romances (cf. my longtime love for Meredith Duran), but it was a refreshing treat to encounter a heroine as cheerful and indomitable as Charlotte. She refuses to allow herself to be caught up in anything like a Big Misunderstanding and perpetually cuts through the romance novel trope bullshit to say and do exactly what she means.

Hold Me

Courtney Milan was one of the first — maybe the first? — romance authors I tried when I decided to give romance novels another chance; and I’ve been a fan ever since. Her latest historicals have felt a trifle pat, so I’ve been on a break from them, but her new contemporary series — of which Hold Me is the second — has been excellent so far. In addition to thoughtfully exploring issues I care about (poverty, work-life balance, complicated parental relationships, independence v. intimacy), they lay out sincere emotional problems and show us how the characters navigate those issues.

Maria Lopez runs a popular blog where she imagines end-of-the-world scenarios in great detail. She has an ongoing semi-flirtation with one of her regular commenters, whom she called Actual Physicist and who calls her Em. When she goes to deliver a message to one of her brother’s friends (a scientist), the friend, Jay, is horribly rude to her, making immediate assumptions about her intelligence based on her appearance (girly! heels!), and she takes an immediate dislike to him. Well guess what y’all. Guess what turns out to be the case.

I liked this book a hell of a lot. Maria’s trans, and I love that it isn’t an issue in her relationship to Jay. I love that we see her as part of a group of queer friends, and that part of her emotional arc involves speaking honestly with her friend and former roommate Angela (who’s getting her own book, yay!) — in other words, that overcoming her feelings problems doesn’t revolve solely around Jay. I love You’ve Got Mail-y premises like this one, and Hold Me is a hugely satisfying book along those lines.

KJ Charles has a new series called Sins of the City that’s inspired by Wilkie Collins’s fiction, and frankly that’s all the information I needed to get excited about An Unseen Attraction. (Actually all I needed was KJ Charles’s name, but this Wilkie Collins thing didn’t hurt.) I received An Unseen Attraction from the publisher for review consideration, via NetGalley.

Clem manages a lodging house where everything is in perfect order, apart from the one tenant Clem’s noble half-brother won’t ever let him evict. When that tenant turns up brutally murdered, Clem’s tidy world is turned upside down — and so is the life of another of his tenants, the sexy taxidermist Rowley Green.

So much Wilkie Collins in this book, y’all. I loved it. Dark secrets to be uncovered, the promise of more scandal to come in subsequent books, it’s all completely up my alley. Better yet, Charles does a wonderful job of showing how Clem and Rowley learn to be ever-better friends and lovers to each other, treading gently around insecurities but setting boundaries where necessary. Clem is on the spectrum and Rowley comes from an abusive home, and they make mistakes with each other. The tension doesn’t arise so much from a Big Misunderstanding as from the clashes that happen around conflicting motives, loyalties, and ways of being a person. Charles is terrific at depicting Clem and Rowley’s attempts to navigate all of this, and it makes their happy ending all the more satisfying.

Basically, if the idea of a story about love, taxidermy, and murder most foul appeals to you, I’d recommend you run straight out and preorder An Unseen Attraction. It comes out on 21 February and is well worth your time.

What romance novels have you been enjoying lately, friends? I always need more recs!

  1. It’s about a guy with allergies who falls in love with his allergist. I mean, come on. That could not be more charming.