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Friday, February 14, 2014

The library is like a box of chocolates

by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian

Since it’s nearly Valentine’s Day, I suppose we should talk about romances.  Not all romance novels are the stereotypical “trashy Harlequins”; in fact, Harlequin offers so much variety now that some of theirs get great book reviews.  Following are some well-reviewed love stories you can find at the Litchfield Library.

Many romance readers enjoy stories set in the Regency era -- think Jane Austen.  One from this past year is The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie.  It made NPR’s and Library Journal’s lists of the best romances of 2013.   In a desperate act to save her sister and two friends from a life on the streets, former governess Abigail breaks into a mansion she believes is abandoned to steal something.  She finds the neglected and ill Lady Beatrice instead.  Lady Beatrice takes in the young women as her “nieces” to save herself as well as them.  The deception works well for everyone until Lady Beatrice’s handsome nephew Max returns from the Orient.  Publishers Weekly calls it a “deep, rich story” with “deft characterization.”

The Best Man by Kristan Higgins made the same best-of-the-year lists as the previous book.  Faith returns to her hometown years after being left at the altar.  She comes back to help her family with their winery, but she also needs to confront her past and her former fiancé’s best man, who broke up her wedding.  They find healing and a second chance in the friendship and chemistry they discover together.  This one is supposed to have some good humor, as well.  And it’s published by Harlequin!

Steampunk is a relatively new genre, really a type of science fiction.  These books are usually alternative Victorian history in which the inventions people imagined in that time are real and the world is steam-powered:  think Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.  Bec McMaster is the author of a series of steampunk romances set in London.  The first is Kiss of Steel, the second is Heart of Iron, and the third is My Lady Quicksilver; more will be coming.  Heart of Iron has gotten especially good reviews.  Lena is a debutante, spy, and secret clockwork toy maker who help to polish a werwulfen diplomat who has sworn to protect her.  Romance and seduction ensue. 

A bit more literary, Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen was grouped with the love stories in NPR’s best of the year.  Is it a romance novel just because there’s a love affair in it?  So many books involve a love story, but that doesn’t make them romance novels.  Really for something to be called a romance novel, it's supposed to have a happy ending and be focused on the romantic relationship.  I think that means this one is historical fiction instead of romance, but it is about an imagined passionate love story.  Poet Frances Osgood, a real person who is known to have been friends with Edgar Allan Poe, struggles to support her children after her husband abandons them.  She meets Poe and finds that they have a powerful attraction which leads, at least in the novel, to an affair.  Meanwhile Poe’s frail, odd wife insists on befriending Frances.  As the novel progresses, Mrs. Poe’s friendship becomes more threatening and concealment of the affair more difficult.

The Typewriter Girl is another novel that is romantic but not all about the romance.  This first novel from Alison Atlee landed on Publishers Weekly’s lists of this past year’s best romances, but it is again a historical novel.  At the turn of the last century, Betsey arrives at the English seaside resort of Idensea with barely a thing other than the hope of finding employment, having been fired from her last job for resisting a lecherous clerk.  She is hired by John Jones to run tourist excursions. Through this opportunity, Betsey discovers her business abilities and independent streak, as well as her soul mate.


Find a novel to sweep you away with a good love story this Valentine’s weekend.  You decide if you want something fluffy and escapist or literary and complicated.  The library is like a box of chocolates, with something for everyone.