A look at what’s steaming up the shelves this month
It’s February, and love is in the air…but isn’t that always the case for romance readers? This month, I’m highlighting four terrific novels that made me sigh, cry, and laugh out loud. And who could resist a hero named Valentine?
Whatever you may be reading this month, may it make your February shine a little brighter and taste a little sweeter.
I was utterly captivated by Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable (Ballantine), the cover of which bears the tagline, “Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan.” Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been interpreted many times before, but Kamal’s entertaining update relocates the story to Pakistan in 2001 and includes a cast of beguiling characters.
In this contemporary retelling, 32-year-old Alysba Binat is a teacher — and just as clever, stubborn, and judgmental as Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet. Alys’ mother is intent on Alys and her sisters finding rich husbands who will reinstate the family’s lost wealth. Valentine Darsee is the serious and debonair hero who is a perfect match for the conflicted and exasperated Alys, earning her scorn before he wins her heart.
Kamal stays close to Austen’s original plot, which allows the reader to get lost in the delightful relationships between the characters. In the midst of the amusingly romantic story, Kamal reveals the complexities of the characters’ Pakistani identities, highlighting the impact of colonialism, along with issues of class, race, and sexism.
Thoughtful and whip-smart, Unmarriageable reinforces the timelessness of Austen’s classic while spinning a lively, complex story that makes for perfect winter-weekend reading.
I loved Sally Thorne’s 2016 The Hating Game and couldn’t wait to jump into her new novel, 99 Percent Mine (William Morrow Paperbacks). I wasn’t disappointed. This tender, funny romance is a classic friends-to-lovers story with all the old-fashioned charm of a bag of conversation hearts.
Darcy Barret knows a good man, the right man, is hard to find. She’s been looking for a long time and still hasn’t found him. Could it be because she’s been crushing on Tom Valeska since she was a kid, and no one can take his place in her heart?
Tom was always off limits because he was best friends with Darcy’s twin brother, Jamie. But when Darcy and Jamie inherit their grandmother’s dilapidated cottage and Tom shows up to take on the job of renovating it, Darcy finally has the opportunity to win over the man she loves.
The sibling rivalry rings true, as do the family and health issues Thorne threads throughout the plot. Darcy is a firecracker who might be too much for some men, but Tom is the strong-and-not-quite-silent type who takes everything in stride. The snark and sizzle between the two make 99 Percent Mine a pure joy to read.
Sonya Lalli’s The Matchmaker’s List (Berkley) is a knockout romantic comedy debut that made me laugh out loud. Raina Anand is still single at 29, a fact that scandalizes her traditional Indian grandmother, Nani. Raina reluctantly agrees to let the well-meaning elder play matchmaker for her. It’s fair to say the plan goes horribly, horribly wrong.
With her 30th birthday looming, Raina proceeds to go on a series of grandmother-approved blind dates with several Indian men. But Raina doesn’t like any of them. To get her grandmother off her back, Raina leads her to believe Raina is a lesbian. Complications ensue, not the least of which are the rifts caused by her lie.
Raina is a fantastic protagonist, caught between her traditional Indian family and her need to make her own choices. The humor is nicely balanced by the drama of Raina’s conflicted feelings about her family and culture. She loves the sense of support and belonging she gets from her Indian-immigrant community, but she longs to be able to live her life on her own terms.
The Matchmaker’s List is a relatable story, regardless of cultural identity, and one that will endear readers to this charming new author.
Crazy Cupid Love (Sourcebooks Casablanca) is the first volume in Amanda Heger’s new Let’s Get Mythical paranormal romance series, and it’s pure magic.
Eliza Herman is a Cupid, and a powerful one at that, but she’s failed too many times to be happy about her calling. After years of embarrassing accidents exacerbated by her klutziness, Eliza is back in the romance game to help out her family’s business. Because she’s not a fully licensed Cupid, Eliza has to rely on a mentor for help and turns to Jake Sanders, her best friend and crush from childhood.
Romance blossoms between the childhood friends and co-working Cupids, and Jake proves to be the perfect sigh-worthy hero. Magic and technology make a charming, lighthearted combination in this frothy romantic comedy, but there’s just enough drama and angst to keep things interesting. It turns out that it’s not her family’s approval, or even Jake’s, that Eliza needs — it’s her own. The magic really happens when she learns to love herself.
Eliza and Jake’s steamy romance is backed by a cast of magical secondary characters and some fun world-building that lays the groundwork for the next books in the series. Readers who love Greek mythology (or who remember the short-lived TV series “Cupid” starring Jeremy Piven) will fall in love with this entertaining and romantic romp. I can’t wait to see what myth Heger tackles next!
Kristina Wright lives in Virginia with her husband, their two sons, a dog, a cat, and a parrot. She’s the digital editorial manager of Your Teen Magazine and a regular contributor to BookBub. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post, USA Today, Cosmopolitan, and more. Find her on Twitter at @kristinawright and tell her what you’re reading this month!