Love is for Everyone!: Read-a-Romance Month
Book Buzz is a blog produced in collaboration with neighborhood librarians from Houston Public Library, Harris County Public Library and the Bellaire Library.
Happy August and welcome to Read-a-Romance month! Didn’t know August was Read- a-Romance month? Well now you do! In 2013, various authors, publishers and libraries decided the dog days of summer was a great time to celebrate all things romantic. Maybe it’s because romances are sometimes described as steamy or hot? Often dismissed as not “real” literature by critics, and yes maybe also some librarians, romance novels are one of the most popular genres out there and generates millions of dollars in profits every year. One of the most exciting trends in romance writing today is a new focus on diversity, meaning titles featuring characters of different abilities, race, sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s a trend I wholeheartedly approve of because doesn’t everyone deserve a happily ever after? Here are a handful of promising titles and authors to potentially fall in love with!
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang: Stella Lane is a smart, beautiful and accomplished young woman who just happens to also have Asperger's Syndrome. Her parents are pressuring her to date, something that utterly terrifies her as all her romantic attempts have been less than successful. So, she hires a male escort named Michael Phan (half Vietnamese, half Swedish, all gorgeous) to teach her about sex, relationships and how to be a good girlfriend - complete with a checklist and building in time for constructive feedback. Of course, they fall in love, are scared to tell each other and miscommunication and wacky hijinks ensue. What makes this book amazing (besides the chemistry between Michael and Stella) is that for a fluffy romance novel there are a lot of layers regarding race, class, consent, self-esteem and mental health. The best part? Falling in love doesn’t somehow “cure” Stella’s autism. She’s still the same person - delightfully obsessive about her interests, has issues sometimes with social cues, can get overstimulated and needs to follow a routine. Michael loves her because of these things, not despite them, because they’re what make her Stella. FYI: the author is herself autistic and this novel was her way of processing her diagnosis and addressing some of the stereotypes of those with autistic spectrum disorder as being cold or unfeeling.
The Portland Heat series by Annabeth Albert: This male/male romance series featuring various business owners and residents in Portland is full of all sorts of wonderful rom-com clichés - May/December romances! Enemies to lovers! Partnering together in a dance competition! The lovelorn wedding planner! Brooding hero who is a knitting pattern writer! I don’t know if that last one is a rom-com cliché but I need it to be. That would be her title Knight Tight which features said knitting pattern writer Evren who is in town caring for his sick aunt and falls for a sweet barista named Brody, who has his own complications as the guardian for his siblings following their parents’ death. Their relationship is built on stolen moments at work, late night phone calls or doing chores together. Additionally, Brody is bisexual and, while he is very much attracted to Evren, he’s not afraid to call him out on his assumptions. The whole book is funny and heartfelt and I totally admit I teared up a couple of times with the discussions of unconventional families and the sometimes-difficult role of caregiver. A romance novel with emotional intimacy? Yes, please!
The Boy Next Door by Annabelle Costa: The whole friends to lovers/childhood sweethearts trope is my romance novel Kryptonite so, how could I not adore this book? Tasha and Jason have been besties since they were eight and bonded over action figures. The fact that Jason is in a wheelchair is no big deal; it’s merely part of him, not what defines him. Awkward middle school years, an ill-advised punk rock phase, numerous ex-boyfriends...Jason has been there for Tasha through it all. Reconnecting as adults finds Jason a Yale grad and a Wall Street hotshot while Tasha is a music teacher after putting aside her wild child ways. The connection is still there but could it be more? Is Tasha willing to risk the one steady thing in her life by making a move? My favorite thing about this book is that while Jason’s long-time crush on Tasha is clear, he’s not exactly pining away - he’s smart, funny and has his own life, interests and romances. The author is a physical therapist and her depiction of Jason’s life as a person with a disability is realistic as is, sadly, some other characters’ discomfort or awkward questions. The book is from Tasha’s (often amusing) point of view and you’ll totally be yelling at her to realize how perfect Jason is for her - that stable does not have to mean boring and that sometimes true love is right next door.
Roller Girl by Vanessa North: Tina Durham is finally living her authentic self after coming out and completing her transition from male to female but, even with that huge personal victory things are kind of a mess for her - a shaky new business after walking away from a pro-sports career, her friends all wrapped up in their own drama and she has epic guilt over the end of her marriage (as she puts it “Sorry for killing your husband.”) So, she jumps at the chance to meet new people by joining an all-girl roller derby team. Well, that and the fact that she’s crushing on the coach Joanne “Joe Mama” Delario. The two of them soon begin a secret romance as Joe doesn’t want to be accused of playing favorites. But, Tina’s done hiding herself or compromising her identity and she has to decide what she wants next. The romance here is sweet (although the conflict and reasons for keeping their relationship a secret is a bit contrived) but the best part of this book is the character of Tina. Watching her find her passion, build her support network of awesome new lady friends and deciding that she deserves to be happy had me cheering.
Any book written by Alyssa Cole: It feels a bit like cheating to say read everything this author has written but well...read everything this author has written! Alyssa Cole can truly do it all as she writes short stories, full-length novels, straight and gay romances, is comfortable writing incredibly detailed and well-researched historical romance in addition to titles set in contemporary times. For her contemporary titles I’d recommend A Princess in Theory in which busy grad student (and former foster kid) Naledi Smith finds out that nope, it’s not some email scam and she really is engaged to an African prince. Naledi’s journey isn’t just about falling in love but finding her family history and place in the world. And if historical romance is your thing, Cole’s Loyal League series, in which a team of covert operatives scheme to take down the Confederacy, is a perfect mix of romance and action.
Looking for more titles to make you swoon? Ask your friendly librarian!
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