This year’s Whitney Award finalists in the romance category are mostly familiar names—all five of the finalists are experienced authors, and four of them are previous Whitney finalists. Their books cover a nice range of settings and characters, from medieval times to the present day. Like Shelah, I’m a recent convert to the world of romance books and I had a great time reading all five of these books. Sometimes I worry that I’m becoming a cliché when I spend a quiet Friday night reading a romance novel snuggled up on the couch with my cat and a mug of cocoa. Someday my prince will come, right? Until he shows up, I’ll just keep reading.
Miss Burton Unmasks a Prince
Meg Burton is happy at home in Charleston, South Carolina and has no desire to get married or to travel to Europe. But her family’s financial situation is precarious, so when a distant cousin offers to sponsor her for the London Season, her parents send her off to England to find a wealthy husband. Meg struggles to fit in with the sophisticated gentry, and the only real friend she makes is a handsome stable hand named Carlo. Little does she know that Carlo is really a Spanish prince hiding from Napoleon’s army, and as Carlo finds himself falling in love with Meg he worries that she will reject him when she find out his true identity.
This book was a lot of fun to read, but not particularly memorable in any way. The action moves quickly and the entire story takes place within a time frame of a few weeks, which felt a little rushed to me. Although I was happy when Meg and Carlo got together, I think I prefer stories with a little more depth to them.
Kisses in the Rain by Krista Lynne Jensen
Georgie moves to Washington to stay with her aunt and uncle to finish recovering from the car accident that seriously injured her and killed her fiancé. She takes a job in the kitchen of a local restaurant, where she meets Jace, who is just getting over a bad breakup. Their first week working together is a disaster and she never wants to talk to him again. Then he ends up in her ward and befriends her family—and despite the fact that neither one wants a new relationship, they can’t deny their mutual attraction to each other.
The part of this book I enjoyed the most was the setting. It takes place on an island in Washington and the characters both work in the kitchen of a restaurant. I had a major craving to take a vacation to Puget Sound after reading this. It was an enjoyable little romance, but like too many LDS fiction books I read, it felt a bit thin and superficial to me. I wanted deeper conversations between the characters, more time spent developing and resolving the conflicts, and richer language. This book touched on some great themes, but it just didn’t quite do enough with them for me.
Eleanor and the Iron King
Eleanor has spent years hating the cruel Welsh king Brach Goch because his repeated attacks on her kingdom have killed so many of her people, including her beloved brother. Now she has been promised to Brach Goch in marriage as part of a truce between him and her father. When Eleanor first arrives at his castle, the ominous atmosphere convinces her that Brach Goch is just as evil as she thought. However, as she gets to know him and his people better, she begins to see that the things she grew up believing may not be true. Will she be able to overcome her pride and accept the truth before it is too late?
This book is both a romance and a suspense story, with some supernatural elements thrown in. I really liked the character of Brach Goch and loved all the details in the medieval Welsh setting. Eleanor’s stubbornness got a little old after a while—she has a lot of growing up to do in the book, and watching someone figure out how to slow down and trust other people can be painful at times. Thankfully she has some great supporting characters who are there to help her along the way, and eventually she does grow up. I liked that I was rooting for her to not just fall in love, but also to become more self-aware.
Always Will by Melanie Jacobson
Hannah has secretly been in love with her older brother’s friend Will for years, but has never dared to let her feelings show because she is sure that Will doesn’t reciprocate. When Will announces that he’s ready to get married, Hannah realizes that it’s time to make her move. First she tries to sabotage his dating plans, and then when that doesn’t work, she throws herself into dating other people in an effort to forget Will. No matter how hard she tries, however, Hannah just can’t seem to get him to go away.
I first loved Melanie Jacobson’s books because of the way she so deftly explored the particularities of the Mormon single adult scene; I thought this added an extra layer to her romances and made them both funny and relatable to me. This book, and her previous one, have moved away from the Mormon singles scene to more generic romance between single adults who aren’t Mormon, but who also don’t indulge in alcohol or who have casual sex. They are also fanatically ready to get married at age 25, like the protagonist of this book. I have no idea if this is true-to-life at all or not; I live in Utah and I’m nearly 38, so it’s not like I know very many non-Mormons in their twenties. It’s just interesting to read a book about characters that could be Mormon, but probably aren’t, and even if they are they don’t talk about church at all. I still really enjoyed this book—Jacobsen excels at writing hilarious dialogue and creating characters that have real chemistry.
Lord Fenton’s Folly by Josi Kilpack
Alice has had a crush on Charles (Lord Fenton) for years after her treated her kindly when she was a girl. Since that time, their families have grown apart and she hasn’t seen him in years, so when he suddenly proposes to her she is surprised and delighted. Charles, however, has become an alcoholic dandy whose behavior has pushed his father to the brink of disinheriting him. He is only saved from ruin by agreeing to marry, and picks Alice as an easy choice. When she realizes the true nature of their relationship, Alice is determined to make their marriage work anyway, no matter how much Charles resists.
This book pleasantly surprised me. Although it employs some standard tropes, like an arranged marriage and two prickly protagonists that have to learn to love each other, it still felt fresh. I liked that the events that brought the couple together took place outside their relationship and forced them to learn how to deal with challenges together. I also enjoyed the way the book alternated focus between each of the two protagonists in a way that actually moved the story forward and felt natural. This is a book that is not just about two people falling in love with each other, but growing up and changing as they do.