Welcome to Smugglivus 2017! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2017, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2018, and more.
Our next Smugglivus guest is Kay Taylor Rea, the other excellent half of the reading & fandom podcast Not Now, I’m Reading!
Reading Romance in 2017: Happily Ever Afters as Resistance and Respite
I recently got into an argument with an old school friend about romance novels. As my fellow romance readers know, people who don’t read the genre often have a very skewed view of what our favorite books are actually like. In this case, my friend tried the (well-worn, dull, and false) argument that all romance novels are boring/the same/formulaic because of one simple thing: the reader already knows that they all end with a happily ever after.
I’ll ignore the fact that knowing everything will work out somehow does not negate the journey to the story’s completion. (I rarely see anyone argue that I shouldn’t be reading mysteries because I know the book will end with the mystery being solved.) I’ll ignore the fact that thinking romance novels are simple or the same is blatantly ridiculous. (The vast number of subcategories you’ll find when browsing romance titles alone will prove this one incorrect.)
What I won’t ignore is the idea that a book with a promised happily ever after isn’t worthy of my reading time. In a year when it was sometimes all I could do to get out of bed in the morning, romance novels have been my respite. And reading books that place all kinds of people struggling to find happiness and working towards it with people they love? Believing that anyone can have a happily ever after, writing hope into existence? In 2017 there are few things as progressive and challenging as the optimism and guts involved in crafting and believing in a happy ending.
So I’d like to share a few of my favorite romance novels from 2017. May 2018 bring us all our own happily ever afters.
Ashwin by Kit Rocha
This first book in the Gideon’s Riders series is a post-apocalyptic romance between Ashwin, a supersoldier (think more Winter Soldier and less Captain America), and Kora, an empathic doctor. In a world that’s already survived an apocalypse, life and society are being rebuilt in a sprawling and gorgeous bit of worldbuilding by writing team Kit Rocha. Although Ashwin takes place in the same universe as their Beyond series, it’s a perfect entry point for new readers. A perfect read for fans of SFFnal romance (or SFF fans looking to give romance a try), found family feels, and stoic heroes who work hard to overcome being Bad At Feelings to show the heroine how much they care.
A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole
The second book in the Loyal League series, though each can easily be read as a standalone, is a lush and sweeping historical romance between a biracial healer and a Union interrogator turned Confederate prisoner during the Civil War. Cole’s deeply nuanced portrayal of Marlie — who combines the root work her freedwoman mother taught her with the science she’s learned while living with her white father’s family — and bookish, reluctantly-hypercompetent interrogator Ewan’s struggles are breathtaking. I also loved the depictions of their complex relationships with their families, particularly their fraught feelings about their fathers.
It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian
I’m a devotee of Sebastian’s male/male historical romances, and It Takes Two to Tumble, the first in her Seducing the Sedgwick’s series, is my new favorite. When my podcast co-host Chelsea mentioned that there were strong Sound of Music vibes I thought she was joking, but she wasn’t and what a delightful surprise. When widower Captain Phillip Dacre takes leave from Her Majesty’s Navy to attend to his children, the last thing he expects is to find them up a tree with the local vicar, Ben Sedgwick. Their romance develops slowly over the course of the book, interspersed with a blackmail plot, a runaway child, and a healthy helping of both laughs and gorgeous love scenes.
Pretty Face by Lucy Parker
I’ve gifted Parker’s first London Celebrities novel, Act Like It, so many times that my entire friend group already knows it’s my first choice when anyone new wants a contemporary romance recommendation. With Pretty Face, Lucy Parker cemented her spot on my auto-buy list. Pretty Face is set in the same West End theater world as Act Like It, with the same fulsome worldbuilding and witty banter. It’s a story of strong personalities clashing before coming together with undeniable chemistry. Lily’s an actress struggling against her blonde bombshell image, and she’s certainly not planning to risk her shot at a serious stage career by getting involved with Luc Savage, her director and a bigshot in the theater scene. But the pull between them is too magnetic to resist, for them and for the reader.
Take the Lead by Alexis Daria
Take the Lead was originally recommended to me by my lovely fellow Book Rioter Amanda Diehl as: Dance competition. Diverse dancer + wilderness hero. And oh wow, did it deliver that and more. This stunning contemporary romance debut features Gina Morales, a New York Puerto Rican dancer on a DWTS-style reality competition, and her new dance partner Stone Nielson, a stoic mountain man who reluctantly puts up with the limelight for the sake of his family’s Alaskan-set reality show. Their chemistry is electric, the behind-the-curtain view of the nitty and gritty of reality television is fascinating, and the characters are so fully realized I felt like I knew them by the end of the first chapter.