The Inquirer’s picks for outstanding recent romance novels

Now more than ever, I turn to love books for entertainment and comfort, respite from the grim news of the day. Some recent standout releases include a Victorian tale, a contemporary story about second-chance love, a modern retelling of an ancient myth, and a paranormal romance involving shapeshifters. Here is an overview of them.

By Mimi Matthews

Berkley, $16, 432 pages.

The Sussex Mermaid is the first book in the Belles of London series. Evelyn Maltravers has one season to find a suitable husband and secure the future for her younger sisters. Not known for her looks or her connections, she has a plan to get the attention of potential suitors. An accomplished rider, she seeks a talented tailor to create some great riding habits that will have her outperforming everyone else on the popular Hyde Park trail.

She meets Ahmad Malik after another tailor pushes him away. They decide to enter into a partnership – Ahmad will create unique driving habits and dresses for Evelyn, and she will help increase the popularity of her designs (a Victorian influencer, if you will). As a mixed-race man, he has little entry into society and his business needs exposure.

As Evelyn works closely with the handsome Ahmad and his popularity grows, the attraction between them also grows. But a scandal would mean the ruin of his family and Ahmad’s fledgling business.

Matthews puts a lot of historical detail into his emotionally charged stories. Evelyn chafes at the rigid restrictions of Victorian England, and Ahmad faces racism and classism. How the two navigate their way through such adversity makes for a compelling story.

By Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

Berkley, $16, 336 pp

Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen wrote a bestseller together, but their collaboration ended badly. A contractual obligation for another book obliges them to meet again.

Rumors had spread about an affair between Katrina and Nathan. We learn that wasn’t true, but we don’t know the reason for the bitterness between them. What happened between them four years ago is slowly revealed in flashbacks.

Writing together again at a house in Florida, the two eventually find themselves in a suspicious working relationship and give in to the excitement of their creative project. But their growing closeness reawakens old feelings that have never gone away.

Katrina and Nathan knew what they had was special. They were best friends and their sense of loss over their broken relationship is palpable. It’s obvious to the reader that they are kindred spirits, but Nathan was married and they never took their relationship any further. Now he is divorced but Katrina is engaged.

Authors Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka are married in real life. The painful longing they reveal between Katrina and Nathan is just adorable. You encourage the two to finally say face to face what is in their hearts without hiding behind their written words.

By Katee Robert

Sourcebooks Casablanca, $15, 384 pp.

electric idol is the second in Katee Robert’s steamy Dark Olympus series set in modern times with mortal gods, but with the same old feuds and power struggles. His last is a retelling of the tale Psyche and Eros. (The first book in the series, neon godsfeaturing Persephone and Hades.)

Psyché Dimitriou hates the glittering viper’s nest in the upper city of Olympus, but she must participate in the events since she is the daughter of Demeter, one of the reigning Thirteen. At a party, when Demeter tries to make Psyche a future bride for the new Zeus, it enrages Aphrodite, Olympus’ matchmaker, who has her own candidate.

Psyche tries to sneak out of the party and meets Eros Ambrosia, Aphrodite’s beautiful son. The paparazzi catch them for a close moment, causing a stir as everyone speculates that they are lovers.

Eros is Aphrodite’s repairer, the one who makes her problems disappear. He has become cold and emotionless, full of disgust for being the monster his mother made him, but something about beautiful Psyche touches him. When his mother asks him to bring her Psyche’s heart, he reluctantly agrees. But when he sees her again, he can’t kill the innocent woman. Desperate to find a solution, he proposes to her to marry him. Although it was a marriage of convenience, they would continue to trick the people of Olympus into believing they are in love through social media posts, and then perhaps Aphrodite would back down.

Of course, the relationship becomes something more as the attraction between them sizzles. And furious Aphrodite always has Psyche in her sights.

electric idol is a fun and sexy reimagining of a favorite tale from mythology.

By Susanna Allen

Sourcebooks Casablanca, $9, 312 pp

Susanna Allen’s second book in her Shapeshifters of the Beau Monde is an unexpected mix of historical and paranormal romance that features a duke who can transform into a bear. But it works.

Arthur Humphries, Duke of Osborn, was ordered by the Prince Regent (another shapeshifter) to marry Beatrice, a widowed Marchioness, to advance their kind. But Arthur intends to make his marriage to the chilling human beauty in name only. He has no intention of rebuilding his clan, which disbanded years ago when a challenger killed his father.

Although she is not thrilled to have to remarry, Beatrice makes the most of it and relishes the restoration of Arthur’s abandoned and dilapidated family home. As Beatrice’s cold facade begins to melt away as she and Arthur work together, the attraction grows and they begin to rethink their cold marriage. But as their connection grows, an old danger returns to threaten them.

Allen mixes humor and whimsy with passion for a charming take on historical romance.

There are so many good novels that I have never had the opportunity to read, and every now and then I come across an older one that captivates me. Even better if it’s part of a series I can become obsessed with. Such was the case with Nalini Singh’s long-running Guild Hunter series, which begins with The blood of angels (Berkley, $8). The series follows a smart, spunky, and downright genius heroine, Elena Deveraux, as she tracks down wayward vampires. She is hired to help find a killer and is drawn into the world of immensely powerful and magnificent Archangels. Full of action, horror and even tender romance, it kept me spellbound. I’m still working to finish the series as written so far, but I’m so excited that a new book will be released this fall.

Speaking of old series, I’m glad Kresley Cole has returned to his Immortals after dark after a long hiatus from writing. Munro (Valkyrie Press, $19) is the 19th installment in the paranormal romance series that features vampires, lykae, valkyries and angels, and their struggles to find their mates amid membership, a battle for supremacy which takes place every 500 years. It’s a vast and exciting world she has created, full of action and passion and full of humor.

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