The Lightning Reviews today are all romances! I feel like it’s been a while since that happened.
However, they are all different when it comes to subgenre: historical romance, contemporary romance, and romantic suspense.
Also on the bright side, they’re all reviewed pretty favorably in case you need more suggestions on what to read!
A Duke by Any Other Name
author: Grace Burrowes
A Duke by Any Other Name was exactly the book my anxiety brain needed right now. I’ll be honest, I found previous books in the series to be a bit slow, but right now I will take all the details of Regency living. Give me pages about when is the best time to separate the irises in the walled garden. Descriptions of the famous cheese-with-dill the heroine’s estate produces? Yes, please.
Aside from being incredibly soothing, this book also has a really fantastic external conflict keeping the main couple apart. It’s a plot I haven’t seen before, and, tempered by all of those relaxing English country living details, didn’t feel so dire as to overwhelm.
Lady Althea Wentworth is the sister of a newly-made duke who also has tons of money, but has been rejected (and bullied) by the ton. Althea is hiding away on her country estate, looking for some way to get society to accept her. Her neighbor, Nathaniel, Duke of Rothaven, is a notorious recluse who is only seen when galloping his horse at night (which seems unsafe, but okay). Althea and Nathaniel’s paths cross when her pigs get into his orchard and he has to demand she send someone to fetch them. Meet cute via pigs.
Althea figures that if she can get the most reclusive duke ever to accept her invitations, it will open doors for her socially. Nathaniel is immediately intrigued by Althea and they enter into this wonderful bantery friendship. As a Wisconsinite I can appreciate that Althea’s lessons on how to navigate Society come in exchange for a wheel of cheese.
Nathaniel is one of my favorite hero archetypes: the loveable curmudgeon who wants to protect those he cares about – and he’s keeping a big secret, though not from Althea. There are some darker elements, including PTSD and an abusive father, but it never feels overwhelming. Every time I thought the details might be too much, we’d circle back to Nathaniel’s walled garden and I felt much better.
There’s also a significant cast of secondary characters, from servants plotting to set the Rothaven estate right, meddling sisters-in-law, a neighborhood gossip who is ghastly in a Mean Girls kind of way, and a hot vicar. All of these characters were fleshed out and felt like real people, not archetypes. Even the gossipy neighbor has a reason for her actions other than “she’s mean.” Altogether, the quality of the dialogue, the intricacy of the conflict, and the details about Regency country living offset the darker elements, resulting in a very comforting read.
author: Mila Nicks
Content warning: Manipulative / borderline abusive families; heroine was married at 17 to a man in his mid-twenties and that relationship was also manipulative and possibly more than borderline abusive, though we see very little of it on the page.
This is a fun, gentle romance that will make you hungry. Rosalie is a young, recently divorced, single mother who returns home to live with her own mother because she is out of options, and takes a job at Ady’s Creole Café, working as a waitress. There she meets Nick, Ady’s son, a single father and the owner of the café, who is still grieving the loss of his mother. Unfortunately, his grief takes the form of letting the café slowly go under, as he can no longer bear to cook there. Rosalie is not having this – she needs the waitressing job to have an income that gives her independence from her controlling mother. Somehow, she winds up persuading Nick to turn things around, which leads to a lot of cooking lessons and a lot of kissing in the kitchen.
Look, if you write a story in which the characters spend most of their time cooking delicious food that you can practically smell from the page, you are pretty much going to get my vote regardless of whatever else happens in the story. I found Rosalie’s relationship with her mother hard to read, but fortunately, there was gumbo and double choc chip pancakes and red beans and rice and cheesy pasta and banana bread pudding and did I mention that this book will make you HUNGRY? It’s like a whole book of comfort food. We even have Rosalie regaining her confidence through cooking! Because food makes everything better, and feeding people is love (says the girl who is half Italian and a quarter Jewish and is thus genetically and culturally programmed to feed everyone, all the time).
The relationship between Rosalie and Nick was sweet enough, but really, I was perfectly happy being instructed on how to properly sauté shrimp. And I don’t even like seafood.
The conflicts which dominate the book wind up being resolved incredibly easily. With the external ones, suddenly the various antagonists decide to have a change of heart, and the problems just melt away. There is some internal conflict too, but then Rosalie and Nick realise that, actually, they haven’t been communicating well and both behaved a bit badly, and so they say sorry, resolve to do better, and move on.
This is restful to read, but it did mean that the tension in the book dropped abruptly in the last few chapters, so that they began to feel like an extended epilogue. With pie. And more banana bread pudding.
I need to go bake something now, but in the meantime, I’m giving this book a B. For baking.
author: Layla Reyne
In a world of lockdowns and panic-buying, I want two things in a romance novel: suspense and sex. This book gave me both.
Meet Carter Warren, a Special Agent with the FBI, who moves from one undercover assignment to the next with nary a home base in sight. He’s buff, smart, and a little cocky. Now, allow me to introduce you to Lincoln Monroe AKA Mr Homebody. He’s a professor at Quantico and a silver fox (a personal predilection of mine) Yes, Bitchery, we have two hot heroes who are hot for each other. To quote my teenage self: “hubba hubba.”
Eight years ago, Carter was a student in Lincoln’s class on forensic genealogy at Quantico. Carter was a smart-ass, cocky nightmare of a student. He also had a raging crush on his teacher. Lincoln had no idea of course. Pleasingly, there is not a single hint of gross teacher-student interaction.
In the present day, Lincoln and Carter have been sent undercover together as a married couple. Their goal is to lure Dr Fear out into the open. Dr Fear (possibly the worst name for a serial killer ever) abducts couples and then tortures them with their biggest fears, until eventually they beg to be killed. It’s a little forced as a plot device but anything that keeps Lincoln and Carter in the same room is alright with me because they are H.O.T. together. I loved the chemistry between the two. The cock-sure (snortle!) Carter and the “pissy housecat” Lincoln are a dynamite pairing. There’s banter, there’s good-hearted teasing and the air positively crackles between them, but the two also share some wonderfully tender moments.
I read this book so quickly that upon reflection, I am missing some plot details, or perhaps they missed me. There were some gaps in the story, such as unexplained notes from the serial killer and scenes that ended abruptly, but the pace was so fast and the chemistry between the two so good that I just kept going. With a little less plot and action, and more care taken with scenes completed and missing clues covered, the mystery would have been as strong as the romance.