Hot Stuff: March 2021 romance novels embrace learning to love yourself
Anyone who's ever watched a rom-com knows one of the cardinal rules of a good love story is that first, you have to learn to love yourself. Finding a partner can be a crucial part of helping us open up to new experiences or heal from past trauma, but without being willing and actively doing the work ourselves, no one else can fix what's broken.
Here are five new romance novels from March 2021 that delve into the give-and-take of falling for a partner who helps us love both the best and most broken parts of ourselves.
The Heiress Hunt, by Joanna Shupe
Joanne Shupe launches a new series, The Fifth Avenue Rebels, with The Heiress Hunt. Shupe has been one of the leaders of a recent push in historical romance to make the Gilded Age as scintillating and enchanting as the most enduring romance settings of England's Regency and Victorian eras. In a relatively short amount of time, she's made Fifth Avenue as glittering as Almack's, the Five Hundred Club as fascinating as the ton. That glamorous world gets the chance to stretch its legs a bit in her latest title, with the bulk of the novel taking place in wealthy vacation homes in Newport. Scoundrel Harrison Archer is to determined to do two things: (1) ruin his cruel family, and (2) marry his childhood best friend, heiress Maddie Webster. To achieve both, he asks Maddie to arrange a house party not unlike a season of The Bachelor to help him find the perfect match — all the while intending to use the time to get closer to her. Shupe has a knack for devising wicked scenarios, and The Heiress Hunt doesn't disappoint with its steamy game of sardines and gazebo trysts. Maddie is a force to be reckoned with, a trailblazing pro tennis player who wants an equal partner in life, not a controlling husband. While she can't deny her attraction even in the face of another engagement, Maddie also can't abide Harrison's repeated attempts to "protect" her from the truth. The Heiress Hunt is about two strong-willed individuals learning to wrest the tightfisted control that has dictated their lives (and their success). While Maddie has to learn to understand Harrison's good intentions, much of the onus rightfully falls on him to trust in his wife's own strength. The book can stall a bit in Harrison's repeated refusal to learn from his mistakes, but the world is so vibrant it hardly matters. Shupe crafts another divine yarn, bursting with meticulous period detail and enough heat to steam up any age. But it's her complex characters who elevate her gifted prose. Like her fictional tennis star, Shupe delivers an ace serve over and over. Only here, love is the opposite of a zero-sum game.
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Accidentally Engaged, by Farah Heron
They say the best way to a person's heart is through their stomach, and Accidentally Engaged makes that literal, in glorious detail. Reena Manji is obsessed with bread (and cooking more broadly), and spends her days dreaming of a career that will indulge her passion. But her life is a mess, particularly when it comes to her overbearing family members, who insist on finding her a "Good Muslim Husband." She can't resist her new neighbor, Nadim, but when she discovers he's the latest in her parents' arranged matches, she becomes determined not to fall for him. Until a drunken evening leads to a fake engagement to help Reena win the couples' cooking contest of their dreams. Heron has cooked up a clever, heartfelt love story for two foodies straining against their parents' expectations and searching for what home means to them. Reena and Nadim have electric chemistry, buoyed by Heron's crackling banter. But it's their tenderness, for each other and the food they adore, that lends the comedy some beautiful heft. Heron has the capacity to break (and heal) hearts with her understanding that home isn't a place, it's a feeling, a person, a favorite meal — and the best way to find it is together. It celebrates both Reena and Nadim's love for their culture, especially through food, while also acknowledging the openness and honesty it takes to makes both familial and romantic relationships work. Accidentally Engaged is voraciously readable, a genuine comedy of errors made meaningful by its real-world stakes. Like a perfect loaf of sourdough, Accidentally Engaged is fresh, warm, soft in all the right places, and with just the right amount of air pockets to make both its comedic and emotional moments sing. We dare readers not to devour it after just one taste.
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥
The Devil in Her Bed, by Kerrigan Byrne
Kerrigan Byrne wraps up her The Devil You Know series with this lush melodrama that delves into long-held family secrets. Francesca Cavendish is a countess by day, and a woman intent on finding those responsible for the brutal murder of her family by night. When she crosses paths with Chandler, a spy known as the Devil of Dorset, the two clash in mutual attraction. But Francesca is really Pippa, a former servant girl and the only survivor of the so-called Mont Clair massacre. Except for a man she's long thought dead, the boy she loved as a girl, who has been biding his time as a spy. Bryne writes a gripping and suspenseful tale of Francesca and Chandler's brave efforts to take down the secret deviant society known as the Crimson Counsel. But they must also wrestle with the ghosts of their pasts and the secrets they've kept from each other for too long. The Devil in Her Bed is a delicious escape, rife with intrigue, thrilling action sequences, genuine adventure, and compelling heartache. Both Francesca and Chandler are bold protagonists, who lead with their hearts, jumping into danger headfirst. While Francesca single-mindedly pursues vengeance for those she loves, Chandler risks his life to numb his trauma. But they are both trying to assuage the pain of the violence they witnessed as children, finding refuge in each other. The book has an air of the gothic about it, but it has a sense of vital urgency that veers away from its more sinister trappings. Instead, the novel reads more as melodrama laced with nail-biting suspense. Chandler and Francesca could so easily be overtaken by the ghosts of their past, but they find respite in choosing love. It's a powerful message about how we can productively choose to channel our deepest wounds within the delicious trappings of a story that's excessive in all the right ways. Byrne's characters are larger-than-life — spies, servants masquerading as countesses, leaders of secret societies — and they're nothing short of invigorating. The Devil in the Bed crackles with romance and thrills in equal measure, delivering up an utterly satisfying story of revenge and healing.
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Act Your Age, Eve Brown, by Talia Hibbert
There are perhaps few things that put me in a better mood than the prospect of a new Talia Hibbert book. Act Your Age, Eve Brown is her conclusion to the divine Brown sisters series, a trio of books as warm and comforting as a hug. Eve is the youngest of the sisters, the baby whose life has always been a bit of a mess as she flits from one interest to another, struggling to find her place. When her latest failure causes her parents to issue an ultimatum, she happens upon a Lake District B&B with an adorably grumpy owner, Jacob, who has a very strict way of doing things. Finding her general demeanor both intriguing and abhorrent to his sense of order, he laughs off her bid at being his new chef. Until she (accidentally) hits him with her car and feels obligated to stay on to help. Both Eve and Jacob have gone through life believing they'll never be enough because they're always too much for other people. Jacob is autistic, and he helps Eve to discover she might be on the spectrum as well, granting some insight. While Eve brings a burst of sunshine and tender chaos into Jacob's life, he offers her reassurance, confidence, and support. Together, they find a mutual soft place to land, reveling in how quickly it can feel right with someone who really sees you for who you are. Hibbert's books are always big-hearted, sexy-as-hell reads. She lives by the noblest creed of romance, which is that ideal partners aren't saviors. Instead, they're merely people who love someone wholly, even the broken bits, and are ready to walk through life facing its challenges together. Her novels model the healthiest of relationships and offer comfort and hope to any who have ever felt a bit broken or simply too much. Often because illness or disability or trauma has made them feel that way. In a short period of time, Eve and Jacob become each other's rocks — that rare person that is both irresistibly sexy and oh-so-comforting. Hibbert's voice is unique and hilarious, one that sings in its specificity whether she's calling out AO3 fanfic updates or Jacob's feelings toward waterfowl. Reading Act Your Age, Eve Brown is like nestling into a cloud, an invitation to float way on a dreamy, soft puff of bliss. Because Hibbert's books are brilliant, wonderful gifts, bursting with the promise that everything will be okay — at least while we're lost in her stories.
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Yes & I Love You, by Roni Loren
Roni Loren launches a new series with this sweet and sultry rom-com about an entertainment journalist with Tourette's who falls for an improv actor. Hollyn Tate prefers to hide her true self behind the vivacious online avatar of Miz Poppy, her alter ego who reviews New Orleans nightlife to great success. But when her boss issues an ultimatum of pivoting to video, she ends up turning to improv star (and new barista in her building) Jasper Deares for some lessons in how to loosen up and riff on camera. Since this is a rom-com, a fake relationship (with some physical benefits) also ends up being part of the deal. But within one lesson the two can't keep their hands off each other. Jasper is looking to belong, a former foster kid who's always worried he's a temporary presence in people's lives. Meanwhile, Hollyn is struggling to break out of her shell, riddled with anxiety about her Tourette's and the merciless bullying she experienced as a teen. Jasper helps Hollyn unlock a well of courage, his tenderness and affection allowing her to pursue and ask for better in all walks of her life. As a journalist, it was a bit cringey to watch Hollyn try to justify writing a review for a production starring a man she's sleeping with, but Loren does her best to sidestep the very obvious conflict of interest, and ultimately it becomes a non-issue. It takes a minute to warm to Jasper and Hollyn beyond following along with their predictable romance beats, but the back half of the book is where it really sings, the improv lessons and fake relationship concept giving way to genuine connection, heartfelt soul-searching, and swoony grand gestures. Neither Jasper nor Hollyn try to "fix" the other, they merely give each other grace to be the best version of themselves — and who can argue with a love story that's also about learning to say "yes, and" to yourself?
Heat Rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥