Any first edition of a new column is full of the “Hello!” and the “Welcome!” and the “Howdy!” This one is no different:

 “Hello! I’m Sarah Wendell from the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Novels and this is the new Kirkus romance column!”

 “Welcome to the new Kirkus, where readers are part of the book discussion!”

 “Howdy! What romances are you reading right now? Please, share your romance recommendations with me!”

I promise to use no more exclamation points for the rest of the column. No, really. I just hit my quota. 

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For a long time, Kirkus was a trade magazine that focused on book reviews for librarians, booksellers and folks inside the publishing industry. Now, it’s re-emerging with a brand-spanky new website and a mission to reach beyond its trade-publication history. Why? When readers go hunting for books to read, they might ask a librarian or bookstore employee for recommendations, but they are just as likely to ask a fellow reader of that same genre.

Kirkus’ goal with its new website and editorial direction is to include and welcome the avid book reader into the book discovery and discussion process. 

My site, which is dedicated to romance novels, features a community of voracious readers. We review books, discuss plots we love and loathe, and wonder why all those mullets appear on romance-novel covers. (We still don’t know why—if you came here looking for the answer, I’m sorry). Most of all, we recommend books to one another. Hence this column. I’ll be talking about romance novels—books I adore and trends I notice—and take requests for your recommendations and rants about romance. 

So let’s start, shall we? What books have I read recently that have rocked my socks? 

First, a truly amazing book is available now—Jeannie Lin’s Butterfly Swords (Harlequin). This is, for the record, the Very First Time an author’s note in the beginning of a book has made me turn the pages faster. Lin’s note is an eyebrow-raising temptation to keep reading:

“The Tang Dynasty has always held a special lure for me. This was a time when women rose to the highest ranks as warriors, courtesans and scholars. Anyone with the will and the perseverance to excel could make it...I wanted to know what it was like to wear silk and travel to the edges of the empire during this golden age. And I wanted sword fights!”

So, hold up a minute. We have women ascending to uncommon heights of social status as...warriors? With sword fights? And romance? How can you NOT want to read that?

Another historical romance I enjoyed reversed the typical roles one might expect from historical romance, which usually follow titled lords and ladies navigating the troublesome process of courtship in early-1800s London, where everyone wants you to make a very successful match, but no one allows you to be alone with anyone who might be of interest you. 

Out Nov. 2, Evangeline Collins’ Seven Nights to Forever (Berkley Trade) features a hero who is wealthy beyond imagination but suffering in a marriage of convenience. After years of working nonstop to avoid going home, James encounters Rose, a courtesan so elite she only appears for one week out of each month.

I'll give you a bit of spoiler—you’d think that between a courtesan and a man who hasn’t indulged in anything sexy for years there’d be some explosive scenes in the beginning right? Wrong. Collins builds the tension between them so slowly it’s excruciating, and in their first night together, James and Rose barely even kiss. 

Romances are all about tension, be it social, sexual, emotional—or all three—caused by a desire for intimacy. When an author removes the barriers to intimacy only to replace them with something different but equally troublesome, it makes for a reading experience that gives you goose bumps. Both these novels take what one might expect from a historical romance and replace those expectations with the fresh and spicy. 

I love when romance is done differently, when the expected is reborn into something unexpected, new, different, fresh and amazing. Romance (and Kirkus—don’t think I’d miss that parallel) has been around for a long time, but is re-created with every release. Each new book retells the journey of courtship in a different and sometimes amazing direction. 

I hope you’ll share with me your favorite books coming out this fall. I'll be here at Kirkus every two weeks dishing about romance, discussing trends and upcoming books, and sharing your suggestions. If you have an idea or a book to recommend, please feel free to e-mail me at sarah@smartbitchestrashybooks.com.  

Happy Reading! 

Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.