The newest generation of romance writers is shaking things up. Restless, adventurous, determined heroines are perfectly suited to 21st-century readers, and even those constrained by the rules of Regency society or werewolf packs are finding ways to stand on their own two feet, their romances complementing but never overwhelming the lives they've built for themselves.
Romance authors are having a few adventures of their own. Tessa Dare moves from Ballantine to Avon with A Night to Surrender, the start of her Spindle Cove trilogy, in which we meet some spinsters whose pleasant lives by the seaside are all the more peaceful for the lack of men. Julie Garwood, who jumped ship from Pocket to Ballantine a few years back, makes another move to Dutton with The Ideal Man, a romantic thriller featuring a trauma surgeon who has family drama to contend with on top of serial killers and a sexy FBI agent.
A number of romance heroines are also ending old relationships, and with good reason. In Sylvia Day's Regency-era Seven Years to Sin, a young widow hopes that her new lover will be a better man than her vicious father or her sister's intermittently violent and repentant husband. Amanda Forester's The Highlander's Heart also considers the troubles that battered women face in historical settings as an English countess fleeing an abusive marriage winds up the prisoner of a seductive Scot. But some troubled partnerships can be repaired, as the Smythes find out in Shana Galen's Lord and Lady Spy: once they realize that both of them have been hiding careers in espionage, their freedom to live honestly (and cheerfully swap war stories) turns their sham marriage into a real one.
Lady Smythe is just one of many heroines who know how to handle a blade. Like her, the protagonist in Isabel Cooper's No Proper Lady, a contract killer from our future who heads back to 1888 England in search of an evil magician must curb her homicidal tendencies to move in the circles of polite society. Chalice, the heroine of Karen Duvall's urban fantasy Knight's Curse, is trained as a knife fighter from a young age and forced to hone her skills in the service of an evil sorcerer. The title character of Janet Woods's Lady Lightfingers is a formerly well-off young woman reduced to living in the slums of Victorian London and picking pockets to support her family. Another, much less reluctant female pickpocket joins a spy mission in Elizabeth Essex's The Danger of Desire. And Heather Graham's Bride of the Night features a female vampire determined to guard Abraham Lincoln from an assassination plot.
If these deadly women seem to have little in common with the modern romance reader, think again. Today's women—of all ages—are in search of new role models, fictional women who will help them figure out whether and how to balance romance with a career, leave a harmful relationship, or seize the opportunity for adventure. If that means literally taking up arms in the service of one's country or in self-defense... well, why not? Romance has always led us to imagine our best possible selves. All that's changed is our ever-expanding notion of what is possible.
PW's Top 10 Romance
A Night to Surrender
Tessa Dare. Avon, Aug.
The Ideal Man
Julie Garwood. Dutton, Aug.
Seven Years to Sin
Sylvia Day. Brava, Sept.
The Highlander's Heart
Amanda Forester. Sourcebooks, Aug.
Lord and Lady Spy
Shana Galen. Sourcebooks, Sept.
No Proper Lady
Isabel Cooper. Sourcebooks, Sept.
Karen Duvall. Luna, Aug.
Janet Woods. Severn House, Oct.
The Danger of Desire
Elizabeth Essex. Brava, Dec.
Bride of the Night
Heather Graham. HQN, Nov.
Heartwishes: An Edilean Novel by Jude Deveraux (Aug., hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-0800-0). While cataloguing the documents of the Frazier family, Gemma Ranford finds references to the Heartwishes Stone, said to grant wishes to anyone named Frazier.
A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare (Aug., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-204983-4). Dare's first trilogy for Avon features the ladies of Spinster—ahem, Spindle—Cove, and the men determined to win their love.
One Night in London: The Truth About the Duke by Caroline Linden (Aug., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-202532-6) launches a historical romance series about three brothers seeking fortunes and love.
If You Hear Her by Shiloh Walker (Oct., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51753-1) launches a romantic suspense trilogy as Walker's first Ballantine title.
Sweet Justice: A Last Chance Rescue Novel by Christy Reece (Aug., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-52407-2) introduces the Last Chance Rescue romantic suspense series from bestseller Reece.
In Bed with a Highlander by Maya Banks (Aug., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51947-4). Banks's sexy Scottish historical is the first in a back-to-back mass market original trilogy.
Heart of Darkness by Lauren Dane (Nov., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-24451-7) starts a series featuring a dangerous family legacy and sensual paranormal passions.
The Next Always: Book One of the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy by Nora Roberts (Nov., paper, $16, ISBN 978-0-425-24321-3). Romance megastar Roberts begins a new trilogy inspired by the inn she owns.
Devilishly Hot by Kathy Love (Nov., $9.95, ISBN 978-0-7582-6587-6). Annie Lou Riddle wants to break into the fashion industry and work her way to the top. She didn't expect to sell her soul in exchange for a job at Hot! magazine—and the boss from hell.
Heatseeker by Lucy Monroe (Nov., $14, ISBN 978-0-7582-4203-7) introduces a new series featuring a secret society of undercover operatives.
Seven Years to Sin by Sylvia Day (Sept., $14, ISBN 978-0-7582-3174-1). Day tackles serious themes of parental and spousal abuse in this powerful Regency romance.
The Danger of Desire by Elizabeth Essex (Dec., $14, ISBN 978-0-7582-5158-9). A captain working on a top-secret mission to bring down enemy spies living in England hires a beautiful pickpocket to help him.
Texas Bride by Joan Johnston (Jan., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-52744-8) is the first novel in a new historical romance series by the New York Times bestselling author.
A Tryst with Trouble by Alyssa Everett (Jan., paper, $14, ISBN 978-1-4285-1642-7) is a passionate Regency romance debut.
The Ideal Man by Julie Garwood (Aug., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-525-95225-1). Bestseller Garwood joins the Dutton list with an exciting contemporary romance.
Sleepwalker by Karen Robards (Dec., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1-4391-8372-4) brings thrills in this romantic suspense novel.
Come a Little Closer by Dorothy Garlock (Nov., paper, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-446-54015-5). It's 1946 and Christina Tucker decides to take a nursing job in the small town of Longstock, Wis., little knowing that romance awaits with local physician Samuel Barlow.
A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean (Jan., $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-206852-1). Regency romance up-and-comer Maclean launches a fun new series.
Bride of the Night by Heather Graham (Nov., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77615-3). She's the vampire that could destroy a nation. At least, that's what Pinkerton detective Finn Dunne thinks when he captures Tara Fox aboard a ship sneaking its way northward.
Body of Sin by Eve Silver (Aug., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77592-7) weaves Egyptian mythology into this unusual paranormal romantic thriller.
A Home by the Sea by Christina Skye (Oct., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77608-5). Grace Lindstrom has followed her fiancé across three continents. When his words of love turn out to be lies, she returns home to Summer Island, the sleepy town where she grew up, to put her life back together.
Bannon Brothers: Trust by Janet Dailey (Aug., $25, ISBN 978-0-7582-5576-1) begins a three-part series chronicling the lives and loves of the Bannon brothers as they investigate a long-ago child abuse case.
The Real Werewives of Vampire County by Alexandra Ivy, Angie Fox, and Tawny Taylor (Nov., $15, ISBN 978-0-7582-6158-8). This paranormal anthology takes readers behind the scenes of a very unusual community of werewolves, vampires, and shape-shifters.
King's Pleasure by Adrianne Byrd (Nov., paper, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-53449-4). The sexy King brothers own a successful bachelor party–planning business and a string of upscale clubs across the country. What could be better than living the single life in some of the world's most glamorous cities? Finding a woman worth giving it all up for.
Legacy of Love by Donna Hill (Sept., paper, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-53455-5). On their 30th birthdays, the Beaumont women are said to come into a mysterious "sixth sense." And if they choose to give themselves fully to the wrong man, they lose everything.
Knight's Curse by Karen Duvall (Aug., paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-373-80340-8). A skilled knife fighter since the age of nine, Chalice knows what it's like to live precariously balanced between the dark and the light. But the time has come to choose.
Twilight Fulfilled by Maggie Shayne (Sept., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7783-1267-3). Utanapishtim has paid dearly for the sin of creating the vampire race: imprisoned in a living death for centuries, driven to near madness. With a single white-hot glance, he immolates his descendants... and the vampire Armageddon begins.
In Seconds by Brenda Novak (Aug., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7783-1244-4). Laurel Hodges has been on the run for the past four years, trying to outdistance the gang members who blame her for the death of one of their own. She finds peace in a small town, but how long can it last?
Saint's Gate by Carla Neggers (Aug., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7783-1235-2). When Emma Sharpe is summoned to a convent on the Maine coast, it's partly for her art crimes work with the FBI, partly because of her past with the religious order.
The Heart of a Killer by Jaci Burton (Oct., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7783-1259-8). No one said coming home would be easy. But for Special Forces hero Dante Renaldi, it's murder.
The Bite Before Christmas by Lynsay Sands and Jeaniene Frost (Oct., hardcover, $19.99, ISBN 978-0-06-201407-8). Paranormal romance stars team up for the first time with this holiday anthology.
A Rather Remarkable Homecoming by C.A. Belmond (Sept., paper, $15, ISBN 978-0-451-23461-2). A new romantic suspense adventure features popular sleuths Penny Nichols and Jeremy Laidley.
A Song for My Mother by Kat Martin (Dec., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-59315-678-7). This inspiring, romantic story comes out just in time for the holiday season.
Nocturne by Syrie James (Aug., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-59315-674-9). A paranormal romance from the bestselling author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.
Copper Beach: A Dark Legacy Novel by Jayne Ann Krentz (Jan., hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-399-15787-5). Bestseller Krentz launches a psychic romantic suspense series.
Lady Lightfingers by Janet Woods (Oct., hardcover, $28.95, ISBN 978-0-7278-8056-7). Celia Laws is a rarity in the slums of 1850s London: an educated young woman who picks pockets to survive.
Darkness Descending: A Novel of the Vampire Armageddon by Devyn Quinn (Aug., paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23433-9). Quinn (Siren's Call) kicks off a dark vampire romance series.
Skyhorse Publishing/Arcade Publishing
A Commodore of Errors: A Novel by John Jacobsen (Sept., hardcover, $22.95, ISBN 978-1-61145-338-6). A hilarious sex farce set in the Merchant Marine Academy.
No Proper Lady by Isabel Cooper (Sept., $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-5952-4). England, 1888: the trees are green, the birds are singing, and in 200 years demons will destroy it all, unless Joan, a rough-around-the-edges assassin from the future, can take out the dark magician responsible. But to get close to her target, she'll need help learning how to fit into society.
The Highlander's Heart by Amanda Forester (Aug., $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-5304-1). Fleeing into the wilderness to escape an abusive marriage, Lady Isabelle Tynsdale would sooner face down a wild boar than spend another night with her wretched husband.
The Greatest Love on Earth by Mary Ellen Dennis (Aug., $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-4982-2). The exotic world of a 19th-century circus features death-defying feats, dangerous rivalries, and a transcendent romance.
Scrumptious by Amanda Usen (Jan., $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-5982-1). Sparks fly between love 'em and leave 'em pastry chef and poker sharp Marlene Bennet and traveling chef-for-hire Joe Rafferty when the two culinary perfectionists are forced to share a kitchen.
Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish by Grace Burrowes (Oct., $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-6154-1). It's just before Christmas, and Lady Sophie Windham has an abandoned baby on her hands with nobody to help her except a handsome stranger who hates the holidays.
Lord and Lady Spy by Shana Galen (Sept., $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-5907-4). Galen parodies Mr. and Mrs. Smith with a rollicking tale of two of England's top spies who hide their secret identities even from each other.
Unleashed by Sara Humphreys (Oct., $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-5843-5). This debut, originally self-published, is an unusual take on shape-shifters.
St. Martin's Griffin
A Little Night Magic by Lucy March (Jan., paper, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-250-00267-9). A smalltown waffle house waitress discovers she has magical powers that put her on the frontlines of a mystical war.
Trafalgar Square/IPG/Beautiful Books
Amazir: A Novel of Morocco by Tom Gamble (Sept., paper, $13.95, ISBN 978-1-905636-97-6). A breathtaking journey into the souks and mountains of Morocco, this epic novel chronicles a powerful love affair and a nation's political turmoil.
Attracted to Fire by DiAnn Mills (Oct., paper, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-4143-4864-3). Special Agent Meghan Connors's dream of one day protecting the president of the United States is about to come true. Only one assignment stands in her way.
Christmas at Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Holiday Sequel by Regina Jeffers (Nov., paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-56975-991-2). It's Christmastime at Pemberley, and the Darcys and Bennets have gathered to celebrate. With such a mix of eclectic characters under one roof, bitter feuds, old jealousies, and intimate secrets come to the surface.