The PHS proudly presents the winners of our Reviewers' Choice Awards 2019, with a list of authors who reflect the diversity and excellence in Romancelandia!
Historical Romance: Heart and Hand by Rebel Carter
Review: This is the polyamorous, diverse historical frontier romance, with a black debutante mail-order bride, that I didn't know I needed. Julie leaves the bright lights of New York City to answer a very unique advertisement for a bride in the newspaper. Needed? A bride who is prepared to become the teacher in their frontier town, and also to marry not one, but two husbands!
Julie's two husbands—Forrest and William—are best friends and as different as different can be. But they're both very sweet, and they're both clearly head over heels for the woman that they've been exchanging letters with for the past year. Of course, a relationship with one person is difficult enough, let alone two, and it's wonderful to see all three of them navigate the nuances of their life together.
One of the things I most loved about this book, was the setting. The town that Julie moves to is full of people who are open-hearted; the wedding between all three of them is one that the entire town are invited to and the cheer and celebrations are both real and amusing. I think it's incredibly telling, particularly when considering some of the debate surrounding "realism" and historical romance, that this is one of the most realistic historical romances that I've read in a long time. It doesn't ignore race or prejudice, but it models an HEA that made me cry.
We need more romances like this, and I cannot wait for Julie's brother's book—which I hope will be very soon!
Medical Romance: The Doctor's Secret by Heidi Cullinan
Review: This is one of the best medical romances I’ve read in a long while, and that’s probably because of Hong-Wei. I love a burned out character, mainly because I’ve been through it enough times myself, so when it’s dealt with the right way, it resonates with me. And boy did this resonate. Cullinan’s exploration of his reasons for moving, and his own fears about whether or not he’s made the right decision, is nuanced and sensitive. And then he meets Sam.
Sam is sweet and outgoing and definitely not dateable in a hospital where colleagues aren’t supposed to date, but love will out – of course. This is another romance that engages well with the politics of dating within the workplace, and it was interesting to see this as something that was explicitly forbidden, how they worked around the administrative policy. Utterly charming with a well deserved HEA.
Romantic Suspense: Under His Protection by LaQuette
Review: I love this book. I’m not always a romantic suspense kind of girl, finding the storylines sometimes a little too frenetic or stressful for when I want to curl up with a romance, but LaQuette’s Under His Protection is not one of these. She takes some cracking tropes and plays with them: there’s the second chance romance, where their connection after a one night stand five years ago scared Camden so much he left without ever looking back; there’s the forced proximity trope, with them both holed up together in Elijah’s house whilst Camden’s life is in danger; and then there’s what I call the wider family trope, where one character gets enveloped into the other’s family.
This book delivers all three perfectly.
It’s funny and heartwarming, with the two of them alternately frustrated with, and a sucker for, the other. There’s Elijah’s family who turn up for a visit he’d forgotten about, who are warm and funny and seem to cook the most delicious sounding food – I had to go make myself multiple snacks whilst reading this book! A thoroughly enjoyable read, with emotional sex scenes and the best kind of payoff.
One for the keeper shelf.
Small Town Romance: Summer at Willow Tree Farm by Heidi Rice
Review: I defy anyone who reads this book not to laugh, cheer and cry. I did. I have two favourite scenes from the book. The first one is when Ellie is annoyed with Art and she's been stumbling around the out building in the dark and getting her best bunny slippers covered in mud. If that doesn't make you laugh, then nothing will. The second is when Annie says that Art looks like Aidan Turner. Now I already thought Art was hot, but at that point my interest went up a whole lot more.
I also loved the diary entries that Ellie wrote when she was fourteen and how she coped with her teenage crush then and how she deals with Art now she is a adult.
For me this book is a definite must read and one I can highly recommend.
Paranormal Romance: The Return of the Queen by Lydia Baker
Review: Lydia Baker is a new author to me and I requested the book purely based on the fact I liked the synopsis. Once I had it in my hands, I was captured very early on, which made it very difficult to put down; in fact anyone disturbing me got glared at with my severest scowl.
I absolutely loved the heroine, Emma and on top of trying to figure out who the hero would be, the adventure was addictive. The story had everything necessary to keep your attention engaged, as well as sending you on a rollercoaster-ride of emotions. I giggled, cried out, wept a few times but all in sympathy with our heroes and heroines. I highly recommend this book.
Seasonal Romance: Her Festive Flirtation by Therese Beharrie
Review: I love a Beharrie romance... They're full of the kind of emotional intensity that makes me oscillate wildly before squeeing over the delight of it all, and sobbing my heart out over the internal conflict!
Her Festive Flirtation is a second chance romance with a twist—namely being that they never really had a true first chance, so I love the fact that their meet cute seems to be the perfect way for them to reconnect. There's a cat and a fire and a delicious volunteer fireman in Noah—all followed up with Ava's brother's wedding.
It's utterly adorable and does what Beharrie does best—that intense emotional connection and then inner conflict that keeps them apart. A perfect read to curl up under the Christmas tree with.
Contemporary Romance: Can't Escape Love by Alyssa Cole
Review: If, like me, you have fallen in love with the brilliant POC women that Alyssa Cole writes, you have been waiting impatiently for this novella. This is a group of women that I want to be friends with. Smart, sex-positive scientists, former party girls who have realised that other people’s expectations of them do not need to define their self-worth, and savvy business women who have said to h*** with disability and taken their love of all things nerdy and geeky and turned it into a thriving online business. Forget the wheelchair, forget her parents always trying to coddle her, forget all of that, the only problem that Regina Hobbs has is that she just can't sleep!
Taking her online business Girls With Glasses to the next level means that she needs to be on her A game. Right now she’s so desperate that she’s willing to do anything, and there just might be an answer. There used to be this puzzle live stream whose creator had the most soothing voice ever. Only it’s been deleted! Now if only she can bring herself to ask…
Gustave Nguyen is having his own problems at the moment. This puzzle obsessed, neuro-diverse Vietnamese American man has just gotten the job of his dreams, creating an escape room based on a hugely popular anime series. Only, he knows nothing about anime. He’s just not getting to the heart of it, and he can’t figure this out, then this job is going to go sideways. If only he knew a pop-culture expert that he could ask….
Imagine his surprise when he gets an email from an old internet contact asking him for a recording of his voice. Strange right? However, perhaps they can make a trade, his voice for her anime expertise. Simple. Riiiiiiiight…
Alyssa Cole is always amazing, but with this novella she has hit Fish Fingers and Custard status. Running concurrently to Reggie’s twin sister Portia’s story in A Duke by Default, Can’t Escape Love manages to up the nerd factor, the representation, and the sexual tension. I’m sorry, but a man who announces that he’s seducing you with his cooking is hot. Plus, my gosh how sexy is consent! “Can I kiss you?” Allons y!
Pick of the Year: Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole
Review: I couldn’t have started 2019 off with a better book.
I’ve been waiting for Likotsi’s novel since we first met her in the first of Cole’s Reluctant Royalsnovels, and it was definitely worth the wait. The novella marries two narrative arcs: one set during the action of A Princess in Theory, and one set in the present. We see two women, both fiercely independent and dynamic, neither of whom quite know what happened before, and neither of whom are prepared for what will happen during a chance encounter months later.
Perhaps there’s a little bit of me who sees my own romance in this relationship (I ghosted my own partner for three months after we first talked, due to a nervous breakdown), and so it was really affirming to read a second chance romance with this unique twist.
Both characters are engaging and funny, with their own unique quirks and sensibilities, and I found myself rooting for them from the very moment I met each of them. Couple that with the delightful discovery that the cover models are actually in a relationship, and I couldn’t be more delighted for this queer, sexy love story.
Rising Star: Therese Beharrie
A South African romance author, Therese Beharrie's career has gone from strength to strength over the last few years, publishing her first single title romance with Carina Press in November 2018, alongside her emotionally charged and heartwarming Mills & Boon True Love / Harlequin Romance novels. She finalled in three categories in our Reviewers' Choice Awards 2019 (including Seasonal Romance, Pick of the Year and Rising Star), and is a worthy recipient of our first PHS Rising Star Award.