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The Inquirer’s picks for outstanding recent romance novels

The books include a Victorian tale, a contemporary story about second-chance love, a modern retelling of an ancient myth, and a paranormal involving shifters.

"The Siren of Sussex," author Mimi Matthews.
"The Siren of Sussex," author Mimi Matthews.Read moreBerkley Jove

Now more than ever I find myself turning to romance books for entertainment and solace, a respite from the grim news of the day. Some recent outstanding releases include a Victorian tale, a contemporary story about second-chance love, a modern retelling of an ancient myth, and a paranormal romance involving shifters. Here’s a look at them.

The Siren of Sussex

By Mimi Matthews

Berkley, $16, 432 pp.

The Siren of Sussex is the first book in the Belles of London series. Evelyn Maltravers has one season to find a suitable husband and ensure her younger sisters’ futures. Not known for her beauty or connections, she has a plan to draw the attention of prospective suitors. An accomplished equestrienne, she seeks a talented tailor to create stunning riding habits that will make her outshine everyone else on the popular Hyde Park trail.

She meets Ahmad Malik after another tailor has rebuffed her. They decide to enter into a partnership — Ahmad will create one-of-a-kind riding habits and gowns for Evelyn, and she will help to raise the popularity of his designs (a Victorian influencer, if you will). As a mixed race man, he has little entrée into society, and his business needs the exposure.

As Evelyn works closely with the handsome Ahmad and her popularity rises, the attraction between them also grows. But a scandal would mean the ruin of her family and of Ahmad’s fledgling business.

Matthews puts much historical detail into her emotionally rich tales. Evelyn chafes against the rigid restrictions of Victorian England, and Ahmad faces racism and classism. How the two navigate their way against such adversity makes a compelling story.

The Roughest Draft

By Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

Berkley, $16, 336 pp

Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen wrote a best seller together, but their collaboration ended badly. A contractual obligation for another book forces them together once more.

Rumors had spread about an affair between Katrina and Nathan. We learn that was not true, but we don’t know the reason for the bitterness between them. What happened between them four years ago is slowly revealed in flashbacks.

Writing together again in a house in Florida, the two eventually ease into a wary working relationship, and they give in to the excitement of their creative project. But their growing closeness raises old feelings that have never gone away.

Katrina and Nathan knew what they had was special. They were best friends, and their sense of loss from their broken relationship is palpable. It is obvious to the reader that they are soul mates, but Nathan was married and they never took their relationship further. Now he is divorced but Katrina is engaged.

Authors Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka are married in real life. The aching longing they reveal between Katrina and Nathan is just lovely. You root for the two to finally say face to face what is in their hearts without hiding behind their written words.

Electric Idol

By Katee Robert

Sourcebooks Casablanca, $15, 384 pp.

Electric Idol is the second in Katee Robert’s steamy Dark Olympus series set in modern times with mortal gods, but with the same old feuds and power struggles. Her latest is a retelling of the Psyche and Eros tale. (The first book in the series, Neon Gods, featured Persephone and Hades.)

Psyche Dimitriou hates the glittering viper’s nest of Olympus’ upper city, but she must take part in events since she is the daughter of Demeter, one of the ruling Thirteen. At a party, when Demeter tries to advance Psyche as a prospective bride for the new Zeus, it enrages Aphrodite, Olympus’ matchmaker, who has her own candidate.

Psyche tries to sneak out of the party, and runs into Eros Ambrosia, the gorgeous son of Aphrodite. Paparazzi catch them during a close moment, causing a sensation as everyone speculates they are lovers.

Eros is Aphrodite’s fixer, the one who makes her problems disappear. He has become cold and emotionless, full of self-loathing for being the monster his mother has made him, but something about the beautiful Psyche touches him. When his mother demands he bring her Psyche’s heart, he reluctantly agrees. But when he sees her again, he cannot kill the innocent woman. Desperate for a solution, he suggests she marry him. Though it would be a marriage of convenience, they still would continue to make the residents of Olympus believe they are a love match through social media posts, and then maybe Aphrodite would back off.

Of course the relationship becomes something more as the attraction between them sizzles. And the infuriated Aphrodite still has Psyche in her sights.

Electric Idol is a fun, sexy reimagining of a favorite tale of mythology.

A Most Unusual Duke

By Susanna Allen

Sourcebooks Casablanca, $9, 312 pp

Susanna Allen’s second book in her Shapeshifters of the Beau Monde is an unexpected mash-up of historical and paranormal romance that features a duke who can transform into a bear. But it works.

Arthur Humphries, Duke of Osborn, has been commanded by the Prince Regent (a fellow shape-shifter) to wed Beatrice, a widowed marchioness, to further their species. But Arthur intends to make his marriage to the frosty human beauty one in name only. He has no intention of rebuilding his clan, which dissolved years ago when a challenger killed his father.

While not pleased that she must wed again, Beatrice makes the most of it and relishes getting Arthur’s abandoned, decaying family home back in shape. As Beatrice’s cold facade begins to thaw as she and Arthur work together, attraction grows and they begin to rethink their cold marriage. But while their connection grows, an old danger returns to threaten them.

Allen blends humor and fantasy with passion for a charming twist on historical romances.

Throwback series recommendation:

There are so many good romances that I have never gotten around to reading, and every once in a while I will come upon an older one that captivates me. Better yet if it’s part of a series into which I can sink into obsession. That was the case with Nalini Singh’s long-running Guild Hunter series, which begins with Angels’ Blood (Berkley, $8). The series follows a smart, brave, frankly kick-ass heroine, Elena Deveraux, who tracks wayward vampires. She is hired to help find a killer and is drawn into the world of the immensely powerful and beautiful archangels. Full of action, horror, and even tender romance, it kept me spellbound. I’m still working to finish the series as written so far, but I am so excited that a new book will be coming out this fall.

Speaking of old series, I’m happy that Kresley Cole has returned to her Immortals After Dark after a long hiatus away from writing. Munro (Valkyrie Press, $19) is the 19th installment in the paranormal romance series that features vampires, lykae, valkyries, and angels, and their struggles to find their mates amid the Accession, a battle for supremacy that happens every 500 years. It’s a big, enthralling world she has created, full of action and passion and plenty of humor.