Today is the day for confessions of the heart and friends, I have a confession. I can't hold it in any longer. I, Jenna the librarian, am a romance reader. I love them - from the meet-cutes to the marriages of convenience, from the sweet first kiss to the steamier scenes, from the misunderstandings to the inevitable, comforting happy endings. I love every minute.
The only thing that I do not love is how quickly I devour them. Since I'm such an avid romance reader, I've worked my way through lots of authors. It takes me all of a few hours to read the latest books (I have no reading brakes) and then I have to wait forlornly for the author to write something new. I've never been one to tolerate waiting well, so when the reader gets bookless, the librarian gets going! As it turns out, there are hundreds of talented authors who may be unknown to the greater reading public - and your local librarian will know where to find them. Here are some of my favorite lesser-known love stories, in order of stars of spiciness (the librarian word for how sexy a book is).
* One Star - mild
In Regency England, Amber Marie Sterlington is the most beautiful of all the debutantes and she knows it. She gathers and then rejects suitors of all kinds, knowing in time her beauty will enable her to marry very well. Then, disaster strikes when she begins to lose her hair - not just a bit, but absolutely everything from her head to her eyebrows. Amber's family exiles her to the country to hide her shame, but it is there that Amber finds out who she is without her looks or popularity. This is a very, very sweet romance where the characters genuinely change to earn their happy ending.
** Two Stars - very spicy
If you enjoy contemporary military romance, author Anna Richland is a recent find. Soldier Rey Cruz is on tour in Afghanistan when he has to invent a fiance to avoid a marriage to a local official's daughter. When Rey steps on a mine, losing both his legs and his ability to communicate, Rey's superiors contact the fake fiance - who is actually a real person from Rey's hometown. Grace has only vague memories of Rey from high school so she's staggered to learn that she's supposedly engaged to him. The two meet-cute in an east coast VA hospital and decide to embark on a cross-country trip to transport Rey home to Washington state. This is a slow-burn romance with interesting characters packed into a novella length. Richland does have two other military-themed books, but they incorporate paranormal elements (immortal Viking warriors).
I love historical romances for their gorgeous descriptions of life long ago. Jeannie Lin is one of my favorites and she is particularly talented at writing descriptive, romantic stories of ancient China. Of her books, one I particularly enjoy suggesting is My Fair Concubine, which is a play on the 'my fair lady'/Pygmalion plot. Set during the Tang dynasty (the 600s/700s), proud nobleman Fei Long must transform outspoken tea-servant Yan Ling into a Princess in order for her to replace a runaway bride. If you don't want to read a novel-length book, try Jeannie Lin's short story collection Silk, Swords and Surrender.
While this particular choice isn't exactly seasonally appropriate, I enjoyed it so much I wanted to include it. In this collection, author Farrah Rochon writes the story Tuscan Nights. Former computer geek Aiden tracks down the woman of his dreams in Italy (who also happens to be his brother's ex-fiancé) hoping that the magic of the season will inspire romance. Rochon writes other contemporary romances, all of which are heartfelt and lovely - check her out!
*** Three Stars - wow, that's hot!
Grace Draven is (in my opinion) a fantastic hidden gem of romance fantasy. Draven writes flawed and realistic characters who live in well-described worlds full of magic, strange gods, and warring kingdoms. I've enjoyed all of her books, but I've listed my two favorites. Entreat Me is a twist on a Beauty and the Beast story, where a beautiful young woman falls in love with a cursed nobleman. However, instead of being imprisoned in the nobleman's castle, she willingly elopes with him - while her practical older sister, Louvaen, follows to save her reputation. The nobleman has an equally cursed father, who soon grows close with Louvaen. It will take the strength of both sisters to break the curse and save the men they love. Radiance is the first in a duology, where a Ildiko, a woman from a human empire, enters into an arranged marriage with a Prince of the Kai (Kai are humanoid nocturnal predators). For all of the fantastical trappings, the romance between Ildiko and her Kai husband, Brishen, feels extremely realistic - the two become friends and allies long before they ever become lovers.
What are your bookish hidden treasures?