Hi Reader Friends!

Happy February!

I know a lot of people love Valentine’s Day and a lot of people hate it. When I was young and single, I always wanted to have a Valentine, but if I didn’t, I made sure to celebrate loving myself and other people in my life. I’d either get together with other single friends for a night out, or treat myself to dinner and a movie.

The first few years I was together with my now-husband, we made some special plans. But soon we had little kids and no money, so whether or not we’d mark Valentine’s Day in any special way was always up in the air. Some years yes, other years no. The way we look at it—especially once we were married— is Valentine’s Day is a celebration of the relationship, but the relationship is the important thing. Sometimes you have the time, money and energy to celebrate big on February 14th, sometimes you don’t.

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I love romance. I love love stories. I always have. I’ve always been fascinated by how people met their spouses, or the quiet confessions of the ones who got away. Everything I read, from the earliest age, became a hunt for the romance, and while I liked books that didn’t have a romantic arc as part of the story, my favorites usually included them.

A lot of romance readers (and writers!) tell me similar stories. I can’t tell you how many women I’ve met who share my experience of racing through Nancy Drew novels to find the pages where Ned kisses her. (Those of us of a certain age did not have very many books to choose from when we were kids!) And while boys were encouraged to read bloodthirsty books like Treasure Island—in third grade!—could you imagine if an eight-year-old show up to Catholic school with even the tamest romance novel….?

Ah well. Our conditioning started young, didn’t it?

Happy February, happy Valentine’s Day slightly early! If you’re in a relationship, I hope the day brings you everything you could wish for, but most importantly, I hope your partner is the bee’s knees, no matter how the day turns out.

If you’re not in a relationship, I hope you decide to romance yourself. You deserve it.

Since the January posts were filled with interviews with fabulous writers Rachel Gibson, Sonali Dev, Falguni Kothari & Lisa Berne, I didn’t mention too many books I read (though they had excellent suggestions in their recommendations!). 

So here are some great books I read and listened to over the past month or so:

*Operation Tropical Affair: Poppy McVie Book 1

I met author Kimberli A. Bindschatel at a local writing conference in 2016 and was intrigued when she described her Poppy McVie series. Poppy is a feisty US Wildlife Service agent who gets sent to Costa Roca for an undercover op to try to catch an animal smuggling ring, but winds up aiding local animal activists, breaking lots of rules by doing the right thing, and risking her neck, to the disapproval of her by-the-book partner Agent Dalton. But their cover as a married couple from Texas, and his directive to basically shut up and keep quiet, doesn’t sit well with Poppy, so what should he expect after all?

A debut title, I was surprised how sophisticated and truly unique the book was, with a clever, compelling storyline, unexpected characters and plot twists, and a great mix of humor, mystery and adventure. Little-known and interesting facts about animals and smuggling are peppered into the plot, too, but never in a way that feels preachy or intrusive, which was a feat in itself. And Poppy is a terrific character. She's smart, quirky and impish, with an intriguing mix of ferocious and heart-of-gold dedication to saving animals.  Her taboo attraction to an activist as well as her unwelcome attraction to Dalton make for some potent sexual tension, but this is not a romance, in the sense of a conclusive HEA. But it’s clear that Poppy and Dalton, at least, have some sort of future in front of them, as professional partners and, if my romance instincts don’t fail me, something more.

She Tempts The DukeShe Tempts the Duke

I absolutely love Lorraine Heath. Everything she writes is an elegant, romantic delight! I was pretty sure I’d read all the LH audiobooks my library had through Overdrive, so I was deliriously happy to discover that they’d *finally* picked up this one, Book 1 of the Lost Lords of Pembroke series (since I’d listened to books 2 & 3 over a year ago). I love this series, and the three brothers who are threatened by their murderous uncle and escape, with the help of their friend Mary. The eldest, Sebastian, heir to the dukedom, joins the army. One of his brothers joins the navy navy and one is left at a workhouse. Now, years later, they are back, determined to reclaim their birthright, and Sebastian, scarred and wounded, is disappointed to discover Mary is engaged, even if he doesn’t expect to claim her for himself. Especially when he despises the man who has.

I’ll read anything by Heath, but it was so nice to finally read the beginning of this series, when I’d so thoroughly enjoyed the second and third titles.

Cherish Hard *Cherish Hard

Paranormal romances aren’t my biggest jam, but even so, I can appreciate a great paranormal series when I find one. As a reviewer, it’s my job; as a romance advocate, it’s my responsibility. Everyone knows Nalini Singh is swimming in the seas of the greats, but she made her name as a paranormal writer, so it’s been incredibly gratifying to see her hit it out of the park in contemporary romance too with the Rock Kiss series and to spin off into this series, Hard Play. Now all the contemporary fans who might not want to wade out of their comfort zone into paranormal can discover her too! Everyone should experience the sexy, romantic genius of Nalini Singh.

Cherish Hard pairs a reluctant businesswoman and a sexy landscaper and, as usual, with each chapter, every detail ratchets up romantic and sexual tension. Sailor is one yummy hero, and Isa is a quirky bookworm who’d like nothing better than to sit in a corner and read a book, and share her love of literature with her students. However, once she’s basically emotionally blackmailed into her CEO mother’s corporate world, she’s intrigued and appalled to discover that one perk is working with the hunky gardener she met on the job. If you haven’t discovered Singh yet, you really want to, and this title is a great place to start.

*Thanks to author Kimberly A Bindschatel and Tantor audio for copies of these books, given in exchange for an honest review. Hats off to the narrators—Rebecca Roberts, Operation Tropical Affair; and Justine O. Keef, Cherish Hard - who do a great job on the narration. Roberts’ Poppy pops with personality, and Keef, a contemporary romance standard, does a great job with a variety of accents and a manages to effectively differentiate a sprawling cast.

By the way, we have a bunch of great events lined up for February and March at the Romance of Reading FB page—facebook.com/groups/TheRomanceofReading/ . More information in coming weeks (and on the page, soon), but beginning Feb 7, we’ll be starting 14 Days of Valentines, with favorite author “page takeovers” and tons of giveaways. Hope to see you there!

So many great books to start the year out with. What did you read in January that you loved?

#LovetoRead  #HappyFebruary  #RomanceYourLife