Portrait of a woman seated and reading possibly on board SS TANDA -- from the Australian Maritime Museum

Read-It-Again Romance Favorites

Earlier this month I re-read Pride & Prejudice for the first time in over 10 years. I had a completely different experience reading it as a 30-something historical romance reader than as a college-aged English Literature major. Somehow it was wittier, more romantic and subtle, more sly and tongue-in-cheek than I remembered it being. Of course I fell in love with Darcy and Elizabeth all over again and vowed to never again let so much time pass before re-reading Pride & Prejudice. 

It’s officially on my read-it-again romance list, and yes, I have a real list. It’s small at the moment, just a few select favorites that I turn to every year (sometimes less, sometimes more) when I need a little something that I know I can always find within its pages.

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A Nerd Girl’s Wishlist: Get Kissed. Find Some Interesting New Books.

Season for SurrenderTitle: Season for Surrender
Author: Theresa Romain
Series: Book 2 in the Holiday Pleasures series
Purchase: Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo | Google Play

A few weeks ago I wrote about Season for Temptation, Theresa Romain’s fantastically witty debut. Despite it’s obvious charm and desperately romantic story, it hit upon a romance trope that always turns me off: the groom-to-be in love with his fiance’s sister. I admitted to stopping the book half-way through just to make absolutely certain that the jilted fiance got her own HEA. The result: I tore through Louisa’s story, Season for Surrender, in about 2 days.

In the second book in her Holiday Pleasures series, Romain manages to hit upon one of my absolute favorite romance novel tropes OF ALL TIME: the bookish bluestocking and the rake fall in love. Bonus: It’s a Christmas romance. Not only do I get a storyline set up to appeal to my little librarian heart, but I get snow, mistletoe, and mulled wine in paperback form! It’s a WIN-WIN, folks.

Louisa is invited to a naughty holiday house party at Lord Xavier’s (Alex) country estate thanks to an off-handed low-stakes bet between Xavier and his smarmy cousin Lockwood. Despite Xavier’s playboy reputation and the scandalous gossip that surrounds this annual event, Louisa accepts. Eager to find some fun in a life that’s left her firmly on the shelf, a third-wheel in her sister’s marriage to her ex-fiance, Louisa sets off with the intent to get kissed and find some interesting new books. Isn’t that every girl’s fantasy? No? Just mine? Oh well. Throw in the best ballsy, brassy doyenne EVER–Louisa’s aunt, Lady Irving–and it’s a recipe for a hilarious and sexy Christmas romance.

(Also, nerd alert: Much of the romance happens in a fabulous library.)

Romain’s sparkling wit is, as always, on display (as evidence, see the chapter: Containing the Aggravation of Shakespearean Insight). Her dialogue is spot on and inner monologues are so rich and revealing that it’s a wonder I don’t expect to find these characters in my day-to-day life (Lady Irvine, let’s do lunch). Louisa and Xavier’s romance is rooted in the revelations that happen when two people have the advantage of simply being alone together without artifice or expectation. Surrender is a getting-to-know you story, less about the external obstacles thrown before a budding relationship and more about the walls we put up to keep ourselves safe.

Louisa may play the well-mannered wallflower but her tongue is sharp and her wit is biting. She just rarely puts them on display. Xavier is the rake we all hope for–all flash and style to hide a somewhat boring homebody, the kind of guy who just wants to sit at home reading Dante, y’all (commence swooning). In reading Surrender, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite TV shows, Freaks and Geeks. It has that same theme of people not quite matching up to their stereotypes, but instead turning out to be complex, likable, annoying, and well-rounded human beings.

I’ll continue reading my way through Romain’s Holiday Pleasures series because she’s a fantastic writer and I am such a sucker for Christmas romance. If you’re interested, the latest book in the series, Season for Desire, was just released this month!

Rating: A
(It’s only missing the plus because I was really hoping for a Lady Irving secondary romance. Sassy widows need love too!)

Stephen Shaughnessy, Actual Man

Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney MilanTitle: Talk Sweetly to Me 
Author:
Courtney Milan
Series: The Brothers Sinister (Book 4.5, novella)
Purchase: For the love of Odin, PURCHASE IT! It’s only $0.99!
Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo | GooglePlay

I’m going to dive right in with the spoilers folks so don’t read on unless you want to know what’s what.

In The Suffragette Scandal we’re introduced to the lone male writer at the Women’s Free Press, one Stephen Shaughnessy, author of the outrageously hilarious satirical advice column, Ask a Man. Despite the small part he plays in that fabulous novel, it’s clear he’s just waiting for his own romance to begin. Given Stephen’s charm, wit and genuinely warm personality, I was curious to discover what sort of woman Milan had in store for him.

Enter Miss Rose Sweetly: mathematician, astronomer, and all around brilliant lady. At just 20 years old she’s the fabulously talented “computer” for a well-known astronomer. Rose is my favorite kind of heroine. She’s brainy, kind, responsible and just perfect for the sort of lighthearted fun and scandal Stephen brings. But my favorite aspect of this novella was Milan’s choice to make Rose black. Racial and ethnic diversity is not something I see a lot of in Victorian romance and this was a fantastic change of pace.

In addition to the surprisingly tender-rather-than-steamy romance between Rose and Stephen, there’s a very real layer of racial bigotry (in the form of the horrid doctor who refuses to treat Rose’s sister Patricia when she goes into labor) and the more subtle undercurrents of confronting white privilege, which Stephen ultimately does.

That’s not to say that the romance isn’t hot.

Because it is!

Stephen is just what you want him to be: gorgeous, rakish, disarming, noble and totally head over heels in love with an intelligent, sexy lady in spectacles. His pursuit of Rose is all about HER rather than what he wants from her and it’s ridiculously attractive. When they finally get down to business I let out the most embarrassed girl-giggle when Rose finally utters to a very naked Stephen: “Stephen Shaughnessy, Actual Man.”

IT WAS KILLER!

Rating: A+
For that line ALONE, Ms. Milan, my hat is off to you.