To mark the approach of Valentine’s Day, here are a few perfectly matched romances: two paranormal debuts, sequels to recent series, and a duo of gems on audio.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is iconic, spawning any number of reinventions. Elle Katharine White adds to the retellings with Heartstone (Harper Voyager. Jan. 2017. ISBN 9780062451941. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062451958), this time complete with talking dragons and garden-dwelling hobgoblins. Using the familiar story as a frame, White creates a detailed world where elite Riders, warriors bonded to dragons and wyvern, fight the enemies of humans. Aliza Bentaine plays the role of Elizabeth Bennet and finds herself both attracted to and at odds with arrogant and wealthy Darcy stand-in Alastair Daired. The spirited narrative runs apace with the developing romance as the two find themselves in a high-stakes battle—and not just with each other.
Another fantastical debut filled with action is A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet (Sourcebooks Casablanca. Aug. 2016. ISBN 9781492626015. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492626022). With a universe supported by Greek and Roman mythology, agile plotting, and fine chemistry, Bouchet’s novel makes magic hum through protagonist Cat, a woman who can feel lies, appropriate enchantments, and summon the aid of Poseidon. Meanwhile, warlord Griffin is trying to build a ruling power base and help his Queen govern in the best interests of the people. He abducts Cat from a circus, at which she is working in disguise, determined to use her abilities to win his cause. The story sizzles as Griffin learns of Cat’s horrible past and the ongoing threat to her future, and she sees in him someone of honor and courage.
Lisa Kleypas began the Victorian-set “Ravenels” series with Cold-Hearted Rake and returns with Marrying Winterborne (Avon. May 2016. ISBN 9780062371850. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062371843). Rhys Winterborne, owner of the largest department store in the world, broods in his office over the dissolution of his engagement to the lovely Lady Helen Ravenel. That is until Helen shows up wishing for a resumption of their previous arrangement. The rough Welshman is stunned and doubtful, demanding an ironclad and scandalous assurance: Helen must sleep with him then and there, forcing her family’s hand. Kleypas is in top form, developing a resonance between the two lovers and infusing the novel with a shimmering sensibility.
The second installment in Joanna Shupe’s “Knickerbocker Club” series, following Magnate, is Baron (Zebra: Kensington. Oct. 2016. ISBN 9781420139860. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781420139877). Set in New York City during the Gilded Age, it features a group of affluent men who collaborate to turn the wheels of the city for their own wants. The politically inclined railroad scion William Sloane plans to become lieutenant governor but sees an obstacle in his path. That challenge comes in the form of Ava Jones, a hardworking performer who keeps food on the table for her siblings by running a psychic show and taking on side clients, including William’s running mate. Will and Ava spar with and maneuver around each other, slowly falling in love against a backdrop of political corruption and the hard life of the city’s working poor. Threads of honor, heart, and understanding support the Cinderella-inspired tale.
The clever exchanges, lush language, and simmering import that define romances are often wonderful on audio. An excellent example is Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, narrated by Kate Reading (Blackstone. 2014. ISBN 9781482966213. $105). The wickedly smart novel is one of Chase’s best, featuring sparkling dialog, a well-developed narrative, and vivid portrayals. Jessica Trent and the Marquess of Dain find themselves engaged in a battle of wills that eventually leads to a negotiated marriage. Jessica is unwilling to suffer much from the arrogant Dain and calls him out again and again. Dain, desperately desiring what he cannot even name, finds in Jessica a stability that he has never known. Reading’s wonderful performance and work with intonation and implication enhance what is already a winning piece of fiction.
Another recording not to be missed is Simon Prebble’s reading of Devil’s Bride (Recorded Bks. 2001. ISBN 9781436108249. $72.75) by Stephanie Laurens. Devil Cynster, sixth Duke of St. Ives, is dedicated to his rakish pursuits. However, when fate puts Honoria Wetherby in his path—and in an innocent yet compromising position—he is quick to declare his intention to claim her as his bride. Things go off kilter as these strong-willed characters learn to navigate their individual natures and forge a life together. Prebble showcases his masterwork with voices, flawlessly articulating Devil’s frustration with and abiding respect for Honoria. With Honoria, Prebble crafts a voice that reflects her conviction and strength. His quick pacing and warm, sexy responsiveness match the novel perfectly.