Hi friends!

I’ve been away due to a death in the family, so this post has been delayed. As we head into Valentine’s Day, I wish you happy reading and a life full of romance wherever you can find it.

Some great books I’ve read in the last few weeks:

Beverly Jenkins’ recent release, Forbidden, was definitely the “it” book in late January, and for good reason. Jenkins is known for the seamless use of fascinating historical details in her novels, all while maintaining intense romantic chemistry and pitch-perfect characters. Forbidden holds up.

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Smart and determined heroine Eddy begins a trek from Denver to San Francisco to start her own restaurant, but is robbed and abandoned in the Nevada desert by a man posing as a priest. Near death, she is discovered by Rhine Fontaine, a wealthy saloon owner in Virginia City, Nevada. Fontaine nurses her back to health, then turns her over to the care of his friend Sylvie who runs a boardinghouse and who is in need of a cook, and Eddy is a great one. Soon she has the whole black community eating out of her hand (and Sylvie’s kitchen), and Rhine falling in love with her. This is highly problematic, since he’s a) engaged, b) a highly influential business oForbidden_henkinswner and c) a half-black man passing for white. Eddy resists his interest, since she wants marriage and nothing less. Rhine searches his soul and realizes he’s willing to give up everything he’s built if it means he can share his life with Eddy. But once the decision is made, the couple will have to navigate the dangers of a fiancee scorned and a white community enraged at Rhine’s long-standing deception. Eddy especially shines as a young woman who comes into her own in her new community, finding friends, purpose, and the true love of a man willing to sacrifice everything for her love (though he does it in a very clever way!). Secondary characters and historical tidbits add texture and depth to a compelling, sigh-worthy romance set in an Old West city come to life in Jenkins’ talented and imaginative hands.

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth is stunning and beautiful, as well as heartbreaking and inspiring. Anna Forster is in early stages of Alzheimer’s when she comes to live at an assisted living facility, Rosalind House, where she meets Luke, another young person (relative to the rest of the residents), who becomes a bright light in an otherwise dim life. But as Anna’s memory becomes more and more compromised, she doesn’t know how to fight for her happiness and their relationship. When Eve Bennett comes to work at Rosalind House as a cook, she is in the middle of fighting her own unexpected battles and helping her young daughter move forward after tragedy. Eve is struck by the strong bond between Anna and Luke and is shocked that their families have decided to force them apart. Hepworth is a brilliant storyteller, and this, her second novel, is lovely and thought-provoking. She tackles a number of problematic issues with grace and compassion and convinces us that sometimes everyday heroism is the most powerful kind, and that everyone deserves to live in love.

While not a romance, I managed to get an audio copy of Echo, this year’s Kirkus Prize winner for Young Reader’s Literature, from my library this week. I add my own accolades to this wonderful book that is ostensibly written for older children (10+), but can be enjoyed and savored by everyone old enough to understand it. Five stories are linked together by a mysterious harmonica that travels from a fairy-tale forest to Nazi-occupied Germany, where a boy with a large birthmark—frowned on in the society that seeks Aryan perfection—must save his father who is imprisoned in Dachau; then to DepressiForgottenRoomon-era Pennsylvania, where two musically talented orphans might find refuge from a grim orphanage in the home of a wealthy musician; and then to a World War II–era California farm where a young girl confronts racism toward her Mexican roots in her new school, and her family tries to keep an adjacent farm safe for the Japanese family who had to abandon it when they were sent to an internment camp.

Finally, all the stories are resolved in orchestral harmony in a final act which takes place at a concert in New York City. Author Pam Muñoz Ryan blends a number of themes in this gem of a book, taking a multi-layered historical look at many 20th-century “others,” and adding life to the story through the power and salvation of music.

And I have to mention these other books that I’ve recently added to my never-ending TBR pile:

The Forgotten Room by Lauren Willig, Beatriz Williams and Karen White. Three terrific authors come together to weave a novel in three parts and three timelines, blending a story of history, mystery, and love. Intriguing!

Clockwork Heart by Heidi Cullinan. Cullinan, a favorite M/M romance author, moves into Steampunk with her new release. Action, adventure, pirates, mythical weapons, and deadly parasols—how awesome does that sound?

Also on my radar is Eloisa James’ My American Duchess (I read this one and it’s wonderful - plus she hit #6 on the NYT list!), Mercury Striking by Rebecca Zanetti, Reckless by Kimberly Kincaid, Lollipop by Amy Lane, and The Dirt on Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones.

How about you? What books are you adding to your TBR pile?

Bobbi Dumas is a freelance writer, book reviewer, romance advocate and founder of ReadARomanceMonth.comShe mostly writes about books and romance for NPRThe Huffington Post and Kirkus.