Baby, it’s getting cold outside, and while sometimes you want a heaping helping of epic, philosophical literature, sometimes you just want a diverting, hot romance. It helps, though, if that romance’s beating heart (and other organs) come with a brain. This week’s book club features novels that are spicy-sweet, but also smart.
1. When All the Girls Have Gone by Jayne Ann Krentz ($22): Jayne Ann Krentz is the New York Times best-selling queen of suspenseful romance novels (she’s so prolific that she has two pen names covering other genres). She favors the romance novel because she considers it to be “the only genre where readers are guaranteed novels that place the heroine at the heart of the story,” celebrating the heroic values of “courage, honor, determination and a belief in the healing power of love.” Her heroine Charlotte Sawyer certainly needs to display all these things in Krentz’s latest romance-suspense combination (suspance? Romense?), finding a reserve of strength she never knew she had.
Charlotte doesn’t seem like your typical leader; in fact, she’s described as being so boring that her fiancé leaves her in the week before her wedding, cementing Charlotte’s view that, “Upon achieving adulthood she had discovered that being a grown up wasn’t nearly as satisfying as anticipated.” Of course, this is a massive blow to Charlotte’s sublimated ego, but she hopes that her job (directing activities at a retirement complex) and her deep friendship with her stepsister Jocelyn will keep her afloat and the depression at bay. It seems like pretty bad luck when Charlotte is abandoned again when Jocelyn disappears, but it’s not like she’s just ghosted on plans; Jocelyn’s friend Louise has been found dead, and Charlotte is now terrified for her stepsister’s life. Even though the death is ruled an overdose, a mysterious package that arrives from Louise for Jocelyn and Jocelyn’s vanishing while at a “retreat” cause Charlotte to fall in with former FBI profiler Max Cutler.
Between the discovery that the other two women were trying to investigate a rapist and serial killer, and their involvement in a women’s investment club that promises large returns for potentially nefarious deeds, Charlotte soon finds herself with more excitement than she bargained for. This includes Max, who makes her start to forget the husband who wasn’t (Booklist calls them “a captivating pair of protagonists who could give Bogart and Bacall a run for their money when it comes to creating sexual sparks”), while they’re stalked by the danger that is.
2. Wild at Whiskey Creek by Julie Anne Long ($7): WWJAKR? (What Would Jayne Ann Krentz Read?) Krentz appears on the cover of Julia Anne Long’s new novel, saying “Long’s writing glows with emotional intensity.” Kirkus Reviews seems to agree, naming Wild at Whiskey Creek one of their Best Books of 2016. It’s the second book in Long’s Hellcat Canyon series, where colorful characters find love and intrigue. Unlike Charlotte, Long’s heroine Glory Greenleaf practically radiates drama, charm and talent, which turns out to be part of the problem, as a potential relationship with childhood friend Eli has to compete with what might turn out to be her big break.
“Eli’s first memory of Glory Greenleaf was a blur and a splash: she’d hurtled past Eli and her brother Jonah on her plump five-year-old legs and thrown herself right into the swimming hole at Whiskey Creek just so she could say she’d done it first, just to impress her older brother and his friend, and just because it was something she hadn’t yet done.” Glory’s been dreaming of a music career ever since she was a child, and has the talent to back it up. Music gave her patience, dedication and a hardworking spirit, things that were absent in Jonah, who got lost in the chaos of their family. Straight-laced Eli Barlow was Jonah’s best friend, until he became Deputy Sheriff and, in the same week, finally acted on his feelings for Glory and arrested her brother for transporting meth.
Two years of non-communication between Glory and Eli later, Glory’s first aborted attempt at leaving town for her career may finally come to fruition when a movie star rolls into town and becomes interested in her on several levels. While Eli has a romantic possibility of his own, the two must put their long-standing attracting to rest — in one way or another — if either of them wishes to go forward. It’s a sultry scenario backed up by solid storytelling.
3. To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin ($22): Hit the risky romance trifecta by picking up this story as well. There are very few buildings that are more symbolic of romance than the Eiffel Tower, and this tale of love takes place in its ever-growing shadow. Colin’s novel is about Caitriona Wallace, a young widow from Scotland who travels to France as a chaperone just as the Eiffel Tower is under construction, and meets its second engineer, Émile Nouguier (who works under Gustave Eiffel himself). Engineering is at the heart of the novel, as the young people she takes charge of are the nephew and niece of a childless civil engineer, and Caitriona’s husband himself was the victim of a spectacular failure of engineering, killed in a bridge collapse.
Caitriona’s options are now relatively limited, to either pseudo-governess jobs or remarriage, and neither prospect seems particularly appealing, given the children or suitors she’s had to choose from. When she meets Émile, though, things change; can they get beyond themselves, their class and cultural barriers and the time’s social mores to successfully love?
Complications include Émile’s mother, who already disapproves of his career choice and would disapprove of a foreign wife even more, and his ex-mistress Gabrielle, who is a certified Bad Influence on Caitriona’s naïve charges, showing them the seedier side of the city. If their uncle finds out, Caitriona will be recalled to a dismal, gray life that has none of the sparkling lights of Paris, nor the man she finds so fascinating. The tale has a steel structure of historical detail, along with a light and airy heart, much like the tower itself (or the hot air balloon that serves as the couple’s first meeting place). It’s romance via revolution, as both the world and the characters’ lives perch on the precipice of change.
What books make you sizzle? Tag us in your next hot read @BritandCo.
(Featured photo via Getty)