Here are my favorite new releases for the month of March! This month I have three romances to recommend that are truly perfect. Each one displays such artistry in its execution and was just an all-around privilege to read. I also think that all three of these books display a trend in historical romances that has been happening for a while now: a shift towards emotionally intelligent heroes. All of the heroes in these books are handsome, commanding men who know who they are…and yet they also have the ability to understand their own emotions and translate them into action/behavior. I love this evolution and so I loved each of these books. I can’t imagine three better reads for historical romance fans to pick up in April.
Eloisa James’s How To Be a Wallflower
First of all, I am so excited to review an Eloisa James, because she is a bit of a personal hero of mine. She writes historical romance novels and she is an English professor, which is the same trajectory I am going for, so I think she is just amazing. I also really appreciate how I can see the Renaissance scholar in each of her books and How to Be a Wallflower was no exception. The emphasis on the theatre, the references to early modern plays, and the critique of Shakespeare’s language in Romeo and Juliet—I loved it all.
And, like all of James’s work, this book was just SO fun. She has a singular talent for creating buoyant, charming heroines and Cleo is this type exactly. She is unflappable and successful (she runs a commode empire) and yet is still vulnerable and a little otherworldly. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic that Cleo has with her late mother—she still hears her mother talking to her in her head and the rendering of their relationship felt so real. James really shows how Cleo loved her mother tremendously but also was hurt by her tempestuous behavior. Over the course of the novel, Cleo sifts through the parts of her relationship with her mother that she wants to remember and treasure and the parts that were damaging or left her feeling alone. This process felt so relatable and seeing this back-and-forth unfold gave Cleo a lot of depth. Similarly, Jake was a great hero. I really appreciated how he recognized early on that he loved Cleo and wanted to pursue her and that he didn’t care about what had originally driven him to England anymore. It is great to see such emotional intelligence in a hero and Cleo even recognizes this trait in Jake, telling him at one point that he understands his emotions more quickly than she does her own. I loved this role reversal and I think it marks a trend in historical romances. Jake is an alpha hero in many ways; he is domineering when it comes to business and even in his interpersonal relationships. That said, his comfort being vulnerable reflects, I think, the growing popularity of emotionally intelligent heroes and the fact that, in 2022, many readers find nothing sexier than a man with some soft skills. I definitely feel this way myself and so I was delighted to read Jake.
How to Be a Wallflower is a delectable historical written by a master of the genre. Jake and Cleo have a totally magical connection and, overall, this book is not-to-be-missed.
Diana Quincy’s The Marquess Makes His Move
When I was reading this book and reached the twist in the middle, I gasped aloud in such a way that my husband thought that something terrible had happened. To avoid any spoilers, I won’t reveal what exactly got that reaction from me—however, I will say that, up until that point, I thought I had foreseen where the plot was going, but Quincy got me!!!
I really enjoyed the opening premise of this book: Alex, a Marquess, disguises himself as a footman in order to find evidence that a mapmaker has cheated him out of his land. He begins to fall in love, however, with the mapmaker’s wife—who we know all along is actually the mapmaker in question, because she does the work for the business while her loathsome husband merely profits from it—and Alex and Rose quickly find themselves drawn closer and closer together. This premise did really interesting things in regard to class. At first, Rose thinks that Alex is below her on the socioeconomic scale and then it is revealed that, in fact, he is far above her in the social hierarchy. This allowed the book to elegantly cover a wide span of the Regency social spectrum in a way that was really refreshing to read, not to mention true to the period. This wide social scope recalled actual nineteenth-century novels in the best way.
This book also does such a good job of modulating plot and emotion. All of the characters’ reactions to what unfolds felt totally natural—I tend to get easily frustrated with main characters’ emotional reactions to plot events, especially when there are dramatic events and revelations, but I felt thoroughly satisfied here with how Quincy renders Rose and Alex’s emotional responses. I also loved the details of this book: Rose’s mapmaking, Alex’s realizations about what life is like for servants, and the way that Rose and Alex share the overlapping aspects of their heritage—all were beautifully done. I particularly enjoyed how their relationship allowed both of them, by the end, to balance the different aspects of their identities in true harmony: their pasts, their families, their work—it all came together for a super convincing and satisfying HEA. Alex and Rose have a real love story and, in particular, you really feel how much he gives to her, but not in a way that felt like it detracted from the strength of her character. Rather, I felt like Alex allows Rose to fully enjoy life and achieve what she wants not just logistically but emotionally…and that was gorgeous to see unfold on the page.
Emily Rath’s Beautiful Things
Okay everyone, this book was a revelation for yours truly. Beautiful Things is a reverse-harem Regency romance, which means that the heroine has not one but—in this case—three heroes with whom she will have an HEA. I had never read a reverse harem romance before, but when I saw Beautiful Things on Instagram, I knew I had to try it. And let me tell you—if you love Regency romance, you have to read this one. Do you ever find yourself getting impatient with the aspects of a historical that are tangential to the central relationship? The genius of a reverse harem romance is that, due to the plethora of main characters, almost all of the book is taken up with the central relationship. Additionally, in Regencies where the tropes feel so well-established and the different types of heroes are familiar, the reverse harem structure really worked because you get to enjoy multiple hero types/plotline types at once. Let me map the different heroes in this book onto Jane Austen protagonists to explain the brilliance of this structure: James is the Mr. Darcy; Renley is the Captain Wentworth; and Burke is the Edward Ferrars—and you, the reader, get to have all of them in one book. And the reverse harem also ratchets up the stakes because Rath has to plot HEAs for four characters and not just two, so the entire time I was like, how is this going to work?!? In typical Regencies, the obstacles seem much more manageable and I loved the extra conflict here. Overall, this book is absolutely delicious and really, really fun. It’s everything to love about a Regency x 3.
And, not only is the concept for this book wonderful, it is extremely well-executed. Rath’s writing is beautiful and the pacing is top-notch. Seriously. Even though this book begins as a bit of a slow burn, it is not at all frustrating—it is super steamy and the character dynamics really work. All of the heroes are friends with one another and I personally really enjoyed reading the passages where they all talk about the heroine together and discuss the intricate emotional and erotic dynamics at play between all four of them. Also, the passages between James and his brother, the Duke (not one of the heroes), were hilarious??? I was very amused by the relationships between the various male characters in this book and seeing the heroine, Rosalie, attempting to navigate these waters was very entertaining.
The heroine herself is also a very well-rendered character. She really doesn’t want to get married and have a conventional love story. I found it moving how her love interests respect her desire to be independent and see her wish to remain unmarried as core to her identity as opposed to an emotional obstacle to be overcome by love. And, when the steamy scenes arrive, they REALLY deliver. Put it in my veins!!
If you enjoy high-steam Regency romances, Emily Rath’s Beautiful Things is a must-read. This is one of those books where, after I finished it, I actually missed the characters. It’s so good that I almost wish that I wrote it…except then I wouldn’t have gotten to enjoy it as a reader and I wouldn’t want to give that up. In short, you really should go buy and enjoy now.