Looking for love (in all the right places)

I have exciting news—August is Read a Romance Month! As a confessed romance reader, I am thrilled to discover that there’s a whole month dedicated to the genre that has been my favorite for more than two decades.

Why read romance? As with any genre, each reader has his or her own reasons for choosing to read a romantic novel:
  • It’s fun!
  • Pure escapism at its best.
  • Happy endings abound.
  • Drama: either in love triangles, star-crossed lovers, or fighting the forces of evil side-by-side.
  • Rom-coms: they’re not just for movies, who doesn’t want to laugh?

For me, it’s always the promise of a happy ending that draws me in. I’m especially fond of characters who start out, for whatever reason, disliking each other and eventually make it to a happy life together. It always warms my heart when two unhappy people can find someone who understands them and together they find a way to make life happy once again.

I’m sure I already know what you’re picturing: a total bodice-ripper, maybe even complete with a shirtless Fabio in a torrid—or even sordid—embrace with a scantily-clad woman with long, flowing hair and ecstasy between them. If you’re like me and enjoy romances with the couple rounding third base on the cover but don’t want to announce it to the world, you can always download the eBook and read it in privacy on your e-reading device. While there are still many of these types of book scattered throughout publishing, today’s romance novels aren’t always so obvious.

For example, I just finished reading The Haunting of Maddy Clare, by Simone St. James, which won RITA awards this summer for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements &Best First Book. It doesn’t look like a romance novel, does it? While the core of the book is a creepy ghost story, there are definitely romantic overtones throughout.

Sarah Piper is employed by a temp agency in 1920s London. Times are tough, and her existence is bleak. She can’t say no when the agency assigns her to assist author and ghost hunter Alistair Gellis. Alistair has always searched for evidence of ghosts: not just do they exist, he insists they do, but trying to answer questions like are they sentient or just bursts of energy. When he learns of the ghost of Maddy Clare (who is haunting the barn where she hanged herself one year ago) he can’t pass up the opportunity to gather potential evidence that could prove once and for all the existence of ghosts. His regular assistant is away, so he hires Sarah to accompany him to the English countryside.

Sarah soon learns her real role: Alistair wants her to commune with Maddy’s ghost. Sarah discovers that in life Maddy hated men and will not allow any to come near her inside the barn. Sarah isn’t brave—she’s desperate to make ends meet. So she enters the barn, knowing nothing will ever be the same.

Are you thinking she and Alistair will hook up? That would be a little obvious. And while I’m not opposed to obvious, there’s something to be said for patience. After Sarah makes contact with Maddy, Alistair’s original assistant arrives to reprise his role. Matthew Ryder served with Alistair in the Great War, and they are as close as brothers. Matthew is at first angry that Alistair wouldn’t wait for him to return before setting out to investigate Maddy. But soon they discover just how much influence Maddy has over them all. It’s going to take a lot of fortitude, and some good old-fashioned detective work, to fully understand Maddy’s story.

Author Anne Stuart, who herself writes romances, described this book as, Compelling…a wonderful blend of romance, mystery, and pure creepiness. With a description like that, how can you pass it up?

This is just one of millions of tales where romance plays a key part in the story—even if it’s not the entire story. So what if there isn’t an embracing couple on the cover? Have no doubt you may indeed find love—and a happy ending—even in a grim and, yes, creepy book like this one.

Still not convinced? Recently I put it to our Facebook fans to play along with a little game. It’s a quick, easy, and fun way to participate in Read a Romance Month:

Take a chance. Read a romance. You just might fall in love with reading all over again.

Be sure to visit A Reading Life for more reviews and news of all things happening at the Everett Public Library.

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