Romance / Erotica
by Kim Fielding
Plot: Oliver Webb comes to Farview to—not to live, and certainly not to find love with a charming jack-of-all-trades storyteller. How can Oliver, who carries his Greynox past as a dark burden on his shoulders, ever claim his legacy as one of the seafaring, sunlight-spirited Croftwell folk?
Prose/Style: Told in the best traditions of enchantment, Kim Fielding creates a world where keeping a couple of dragons in the stable to pull your carriage is an everyday affair, and it's only prudent to lay in some extra victuals so you can keep on friendly terms with the imps that live in the garden. But it's the sparkling, limpid magic of Fielding's writing that will draw her readers in – her gift of creating a sense of place and emotions so vividly real that readers raise their eyes from the page as if emerging from a dream.
Originality: Farview is storytelling of the highest order; from the very first page, any thought of disbelief is happily suspended as we joyfully plunge into Oliver and Felix's world. At times, the graphic descriptions of the sexual intimacy between the two strike an off note in this tale of enchantment; they are just a shade too realistic, and come perilously close to breaking the spell.
Character Development/Execution: It is delightful to see the romance that develops between Oliver and Felix treated with the same matter-of-factness as imps in the garden and dragons in the stables. Readers will wish they could live in Oliver and Felix's world.
by B.E. Baker
Plot: Hair stylist Beth Graham’s biomom, the famous pop star Henrietta Gauvon, has just turned up out of the blue and invited her to tour in Europe as her pianist. Cole's mother married the Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein when he was only three years old, but even should he become an adopted son of the fabulously wealthy royal family, Cole will never sit on the throne. And there begins a rollicking adventure filled with the most unlikely (but welcome) coincidences and drama as Beth and Cole strive to find a place where they can both belong.
Prose: Beth and Cole tell the story in the first-person in alternating chapters. B.E. Baker (Bridget E. Baker’s penname for her romance novels), writes crisp, easy-to-read prose that leaves you gasping as one revelation gives way to the next in fewer sentences than you would believe possible. She has an excellent ear for dialogue, though there are some inconsistencies in the use of idioms given that the novel is set in the early 1960s.
Originality: This mixture of historical fact and pure invention is so entertaining that trying to parse what is true and what is not is simply not worth the effort. An effervescent romance that is truly fun to read.
Character/Execution: Beth and Cole both face serious challenges and rejection as they make their way toward home and their own fairy tale ending, and both mature as a result.
Blurb: Book 6 of Baker’s 8-novel Finding Home series, this is a rollicking adventure filled with the most unlikely (but welcome) coincidences and drama as Beth and Cole strive to find a place where they can both belong.
by Lauren Smith
Plot: Lauren Smith flirts with the trope of mixed signals and a man filled with hesitation, when approaching affectionate feelings. The book manages to prolong this tension until its final pages, forcing readers to succumb to the author’s inventions. It has all of the qualities expected from a romance novel: maddening conflicts, charismatic characters, and a love that wreaks an undeniable giddiness.
Prose/Style: The prose is delicate in nature without being bogged down by uppity or verbose language that is commonly mistaken in old English accents. The author’s execution and thoughtfulness with her tone makes the book pleasing to modern ears.
Originality: The genre of historical romance is saturated with women brandished in luxury, but Smith’s heroine fashions an internal richness that triumphs any love based on social class. Her story is one of two beings falling for each other’s' souls and not simply their bodies.
Character Development/Execution: Every character in this book, excluding the villains Alistair Sommers and Cornelius Selkirk, are self-effacing yet gallant. The author writes her characters with a doting air that expresses their modesty and vulnerability. Readers cannot help but sympathize with them, root for them, and praise their successes.
Blurb: This is a book that delights in an emotional panorama of timidity, spirit, and desire.
by Carol M. Cram
Plot: Quirky meets the genteel in this dynamic book about art, food, and ultimately, expression. Cram’s writing interacts with its reader on many levels: the author’s narrative of Genna’s life in Paris and the character’s narrative created for culinary enthusiasts. A world exists within the texts, where Genna is inside the contextual world, but continues to reach out.
Prose/Style: The Australian and British slang, mixed with the French exchanges, season the book with a cultural breadth, similar to Roddy Doyle’s narratives and their Irish lingo. As Genna interprets ingredients through art, the words undergo a metamorphosis, where their meanings nimbly shift in translation and function.
Originality: Revealing impressive knowledge of her topics, Cram’s combination between art and food creates a lovely unity, where culinary art, sculptures, and paintings are all connected. With an impressive amount of art history and flavor combinations, readers will eagerly digest every word, while still walking away with empty stomachs and awaiting recipes.
Character Development/Execution: Genna is wholly relatable, and therefore, instantly likable—a tainted past, lofty dreams, and a dogged disbelief in obtaining them. She is obstinate yet sheepish, an ordinary woman that manifests her Parisian fantasies.
by Levi Huxton
Plot: Erotic and honest, readers will be wrapped under the spell of the main character, who has all of the others in his grasp. The ending may or may not be a surprise, but the reader will feel the emptiness just as the characters do. The author has avoided the feeling of repetition with thorough character development and growth. Every sexual encounter in the novel feels candid but genuine.
Prose/Style: The author is a poignant and thoughtful storyteller. Details throughout are carefully managed and allow the reader feel intimately connected to the characters.
Originality: Each section of the book has three or four chapters which focus on different characters and their experience with the protagonist. The author capably creates emotional depth, making the conclusion especially impactful.
Character Development/Execution: Authentic characterizations remind readers that life is frequently about letting go and embarking upon new adventures. Even the reader will be awestruck by the main character and miss him by the end.
Blurb: Candidly written, the author reminds readers that there is more than one way to lose someone.
by J.B. Curry
Plot: J.B. Curry writes a fascinating novel that takes apart numerous literary conflicts, including character versus self, man versus nature, and man against man. In the same manner as Frankenstein, the book fabricates a sheer line between the natural and the manmade and cautions against an engineered society.
Prose/Style: The author models her prose after the book’s title, where the words are as intangible as the wind—something unable to grasp yet absorbed by one’s senses. The descriptions are wispy and fleeting with a smoothness that elicits the same lulling sensation as Eliza’s fragrance.
Originality: Curry successfully sets her story in the midst of the Prohibition Era, where there is an already established atmosphere of secrecy and crime. Just as H.H. Holmes scoured the World's Columbian Exposition, Curry devises mythical creatures to terrorize the fair’s second revival.
Character Development/Execution: The author sympathizes with her characters, lending a similar compassion to readers. By creating a storyline about acceptance, Curry challenges the way physical appearance is often associated with humanness, in order to grant her characters dignity.
by Caitlin Moss
Plot: Moss creates a pure yet disheartening story of the unspoken burdens of motherhood. As the book shows how a disconnected marriage is no different than neglect, The Cracks Between Us reflects the political issues of second-wave feminism—the ’60s movement that analyzed a woman’s role within their personal lives. Moss’ book is a tale of a woman who defines her existence outside the housewife role, as she challenges society’s metrics for feminine success.
Prose/Style: Moss’ scenarios throughout her chapters thrust the reader into isolation, into the residue of a hollow marriage. Her profound yet faint interactions reveal a slow, marital dissolve, while hinting that a broken relationship happens in fragmented disappointments that lead to disinterest. The structure of the piece, which shifts from chapters entitled “Then” and “Now,” eventually trims the chapters on the past, as if to close in on all Aila has left: the present.
Originality: Moss refuses to romanticize love the way some authors do. Instead, she shows love in its imperfect state, the beginnings and the endings. She chooses to write about the phases that follow the trite, undeniable spark and instead, creates a laborious story where a couple works to preserve their flame.
Character Development/Execution: The novel’s initial setting, a therapy room, appropriately places the reader in a purgatory between Aila’s subconscious and conscious mind. Moss successfully composes a palette of emotions, as her character comes to terms with her silent suffering.
by Erin McRae & Racheline Maltese
Plot: The romance duo Erin McRae and Racheline Maltese normalize unconventional relationships with their modern love story, The Art of Three. The book challenges what it means to love without hidden agenda or timidity. Shedding traditional objections to sexuality, the authors dwell on how dignity is not a right to be earned—it’s intrinsically human.
Prose/Style: In a book devoted to communication, The Art of Three busies itself with banter that feels like an intrusion on private moments. The often comical, spoken thoughts between characters give a vitality to ordinary life.
Originality: Maltese and McRae are relatively focused on identity, and their characterization supports this. Jamie wears a charming naivety, yet Callum and Nerea reflect beings aged but not outdated. Compassion radiates between the characters, resulting in an unavoidable contagion.
Character Development/Execution: There are many moments in The Art of Three that engage with society’s framework of “othering,” a process that has polluted history. The representation of sexuality and disability cautions against alienation, by creating characters that are perfectly unique.
by Gregory Urbach
Plot: The plot here is engrossing to the point where the reader will not want to stop reading. The premise is original and gripping, and the first few pages will simply hook the audience. The plot is fast-paced and stark but works effectively.
Prose/Style: The author is an extremely talented writer. Description here is sparse, which helps keep the story moving at a clipped pace, but at times a little more detail would be helpful.
Originality: This work is singular and unique. The premise is intriguing and unexpected, and the reader can't help but keep reading in anticipation for the next development and final resolution of the story.
Character Development/Execution: The author does a great job with characterization, making each come alive on the page, even Daniel who is already dead by the time the story opens. However, Daniel's ex-wife Pamela pushes the edges of extremism and could use a tiny bit more restraint in her character development.
by B. E. Baker
Plot: Despite the complexities littered throughout this tale, Finding Faith reads like the honeymoon stage of a relationship. It’s filled with laughter, an idealized reality, and an endless craving for the story to continue. Luke’s and Mary’s love offers a temporary euphoria that shows romance is sometimes found where it is least expected.
Prose/Style: Baker’s dialogue has the capacity to reflect the diction of a thirty-year-old and a five-year-old, encompassing a wide range of perspectives. Amy’s and Chase’s imperfect sputters and continual deviance paint an authentic picture of children's behavior.
Originality: The Christmas setting nearly typecasts this book with all the novelistic qualities of a Hallmark movie. The honeyed beginning and equally passionate ending provide a childish delight that kindles the spirit of a hopeless romantic.
Character Development/Execution: With an opening line that is both assertive and striking, the book begins with a strong narrator who claims her own story. As Mary tells her past, she becomes vulnerable with those in her life and her readers.
by Carrie Thorne
Plot: Carrie Thorne writes her romance The Next Day as a note on survival and how others can aid that course. It is sensual, playful, and tender. With a bit of dramatic irony, the reader feels privy to the anticipated outcome, while watching the characters grasp the ending to their own stories.
Prose/Style: The author pleasantly blends dialogue with the characters’ perspectives into a natural pacing that mimics real life. In the moments of intimacy, the language sometimes becomes stale and would benefit from fresh descriptions. However, the dialogue is short and clipped, capturing the conversational style used in everyday life.
Originality: Despite the alternating perspectives, Thorne’s book encompasses all the qualities of women’s fiction. With the occasional critique of gender norms, it introduces subtle feminism and departs from the accepted romance trope of a female character pining for love—introducing an equal relationship where both individuals are mutually independent.
Character Development/Execution: Guided primarily through an internal monologue, readers become voyeurs of the characters' troubled pasts. Thorne crafts characters that are emotionally guarded yet equally fierce. The book focuses on an exploration of truth, while portraying steady, personal growth.
by Dana Wayne
Plot: Charming and evenly paced, the action and twists occur at the right places to keep the reader engaged in this tasteful romance. The author gives the main character a scar that affects her life in a negative way; while the author uses this device in the story, it feels forgotten about as the plot develops and the climax ensues. The reader anticipates that the scar will play a bigger role in the story; however, this does not deter from the entertainment the story provides.
Prose/Style: Well-written and easy to read, the author has created suspense at the end of each chapter, catapulting the reader forward. The language and dynamics are true to the time period in which the story is written.
Originality: Clearly well-researched, the characters and action stay true to the time period. The romance in the story feels simple and classy. Mixing romance with a bit of suspense is a fresh take, as the reader gets to see the characters interact in ways other than anticipated.
Character Development/Execution: Taking place in 1879, when women’s roles were emerging and beginning to change, the characters here are true to the time period and grow throughout the story. While the main character has a facial scar, she does not let it deter her but seems to use it to help others as she is not nearly as perfect as another character believes herself to be. This contrast between the two characters creates an interpersonal tension that is satisfying to the reader.
by Claire Sanders
Plot: Freedom River follows two tales from different worlds: the enslaved and the oppressors. Told largely from the omniscient view of abolitionist Constance Drake, the author uses the protagonist as a force of harmless innocence, in order to teach of the atrocities in practice and not just conversation. The woman-centered narrative offers a humbling account from another class—a group that was not equally subordinated but still fighting for their own suffrage.
Prose/Style: Readers will marvel at the figurative language in this book, where similes furnish every plain description. Intricately detailed sentences flecked with strong verbs only accentuate the engaging content. With a theme that could be critiqued as easily as Huckleberry Finn, the author is cautious about the language used to probe such a sensitive topic.
Originality: In an article about fictional representation, Zadie Smith once said, “It’s natural that we should fear and be suspicious of representations of us by those who are not like us....But in our justified desire to level or even obliterate the old power structures…we can, sometimes, forget the mystery that lies at the heart of all selfhood.” The current #OwnVoices movement propels this notions, but Sanders does not attempt to become the voice for the oppressed. Her white protagonists may arguably steal the focus from the enslaved, by making the plot about the abolitionists’ good deeds and not the affected victims. But this focus excuses the author from misrepresentation, by sharing how that time spawned racial ignorance and injustice.
Character Development/Execution: As characters repent for their transgressions, the plot exhibits a remorseful narrative with characters that evolve with the story. However, the book should be wary about the way it sympathizes with its characters and their acts, which some would deem unforgivable. As the narration enters the slave hunters’ minds, the book may benefit from a neutral narrator that corrects its subjects, the same way Jane Austen’s narrator offers a frank and critical description of Emma. This voice would soften the sometimes candid sentiments.
by Becky Michaels
Plot: This well-paced historical romance has a strong main conflict that drives the emotional and physical bonds formed by the main characters. A number of mini-conflicts that the primary and secondary characters experience take narrative time away from the main love story, while some seem introduced and too quickly resolved. Serious subjects are woven into the romantic narrative with care and help to propel and not overwhelm the main happily-ever-after.
Prose/Style: Michaels uses the authentic language of the Regency romance period well, yet at certain points, more modern terms/phrases interrupt the prose's flow. The intimate scenes are passionately written; they do feel a bit rushed and, again, contain a few too many contemporary terms.
Originality: Michaels's engaging historical romance mixes several popular tropes of the genre, but succeeds in adding some truly distinct (and believable) twists along the way. The addition of an excess of conflicts threatens to overwhelm the narrative, but Michaels manages to resolve them neatly, if maybe a bit too quickly.
Character Development/Execution: The main characters have strong chemistry, which is enhanced by powerful physical and emotional connections. The heroine does, at times, feel uneven; she starts off as a strong-willed, bolder-than-usual Regency protagonist, but seems to lose some of that individuality in the second half of the novel. The hero is a complex, distinct character, reflecting a refreshing intellectual bent. The supporting characters are well-rounded and effectively help propel the main romantic narrative forward.
by Beth C. Greenberg
Plot: Strong characters move the action long in this witty romp. This first installment is well-researched and fills in the gaps for the reader who is unfamiliar with Greek mythology. The main character having to choose between love and duty proves engaging and entertaining along the racy ride.
Prose/Style: The author has a flair for keeping a quirky tone and wit throughout the story. Between intentional word choice and tone, the author has created an outlandish and creative story.
Originality: This book presents a clever mix of romance, fantasy, and mythology that is well-researched and gives the reader enough background to understand the motivations and backstories of characters.
Character Development/Execution: The colorful and quirky characters are witty and keep the storyline lively. Even though the main character may be unsophisticated at times, his charm and wit carry the plot.
by Liz Adams
Plot: In Alice’s Erotic Adventures Through the Mirror, Adams rediscovers Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, yet the author departs from the fairytale classic by making hers a hedonistic pursuit. Peculiar and carnal, this novel is a discovery of self-worth and deepest desires.
Prose/Style: The author playfully employs the language of the original novel with its invented terms and unusual settings. However, Adams applies her own interpretation to the words. Nursery rhymes transform into poetic seduction, and flowers, insects, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum each represent a forbidden fetish.
Originality: This book is not a deeply emotional exploration, and therefore, profound romance barely interferes with the narrative. However, this unclaimed genre causes the tale to be a literary misfit— the romantic aspects too simplified, yet the raunchy moments never enough.
Character Development/Execution: Given the novel’s inspiration, Adams's protagonist embodies an unavoidable innocence. While Adams attempts to show a young woman understanding her worth, the book’s outward focus is really about college kids navigating sex and love. Alice’s and Jack’s relationship entertains problems experienced by young adults, yet the risqué portion caters to adult readers—a minute clash between age and activity.