Mary Wilkes Towner: Two tales to get started with romance

Mary Wilkes Towner: Two tales to get started with romance

I'm a proud romance-novel reader. I'm drawn to the escapism, the happy endings, the strong characters and, lately, the diversity. Focusing on relationships, these titles run the gamut from sweet to sassy to sexy, and offer all sorts of plots and protagonists.

They attract a huge readership. According to the Romance Writers of America, romance novels account for 34 percent of the U.S. fiction market. And 16 percent of the buyers are men! (https://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=580)

You haven't read a love story? Try one out! There's a satisfying romance title out there for every reader. Award winners can be a good way to start.

Here are two tales you might enjoy that recently caught my interest. Both of them are current nominees — in different categories — for the RWA RITA Award, which recognizes excellence in published romance.

Local author Elizabeth Hoyt's novel "Duke of Sin" is the 10th entry in her Maiden Lane series, set in a rowdy and robust 1740s London. Housekeeper Bridget is a strong, loyal woman who has taken a position in the house of the notorious, stunningly attractive rake Valentine, the Duke of Montgomery.

One of Val's unfortunate qualities is that he's a blackmailer, and uses secrets to gain power and revenge against those who have wronged him and his family. Bridget has a secret, too. She's the illegitimate daughter of a titled lady, and as she works, she's searching the Duke's house to recover the evidence that could embarrass her mother.

Can mutual attraction overcome the opposing sides Val and Bridget find themselves on? The pull between Val and Bridget is strong, and their bedroom scenes are well-done. I found myself intrigued by both of their backstories and wondered, can a bad boy be redeemed?

"Duke of Sin" is a racy book, at times suggestive. It features an evil secret society that Val strives to destroy. "Duke of Sin" can be read as a stand-alone, but I appreciated the inclusion of secondary characters from other books in the series. I felt at home in Hoyt's world.

"Lone Heart Pass" is a contemporary Texas ranch tale. Best known for her historical western romances, Jodi Thomas has created a series set in and around Ransom Canyon.

Jubilee inherits a run-down ranch from her great-grandfather. Her career and most recent relationship are failures, and she has nowhere else to go. Charley is a single father, working multiple jobs to make ends meet. They both need a second chance.

Inexperienced Jubilee hires Charley as her foreman, and they work hard together for success. Another storyline intertwines when a dead body is discovered in the canyon, introducing us to the sheriff and locals in the community.

Strong secondary characters enhance the book, such as young Thatcher, a teen forced to fend for himself, and the sheriff's daughter Lauren, home from college. The suspense, the chapters told from different points of view, and the interaction among Jubilee, Charley and Thatcher all helped make this a quick and appealing read.

The RITA Awards will be announced at the RWA annual conference in July. Do you think these two will win their categories? Want to try another recommended title? The complete list of finalists is announced here: https://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=2258.

Mary Wilkes Towner is an adult and youth services librarian at the Urbana Free Library and an adjunct lecturer at the iSchool at the University of Illinois.

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