Some of you might remember that last Valentine’s Day, I wrote a post reviewing a couple of my favourite romance series and talking about why I liked not only the writing but also the values they promoted (healthy relationships and diversity). One thing I did notice, however, is that both of them were by white authors and about white couples. And this is one of those things that’s not in itself any sort of problem, but where there is some important wider context going on. (Short version: a) writers of colour have significantly more difficulty getting published than white writers, and b) non-white characters don’t get anything like the same level of representation in main roles in books. So all this contributes to the problem of white people being more likely to live in a homogenous bubble and non-white people not getting to see themselves represented in books to anything like the same extent.)
So, it occurred to me that for Valentine’s Day 2022, it would be interesting to look actively for good romances by non-white authors and to review some of those.
For my first review, a book that I discovered on Kindle Deals a while back: Have We Met? by Camille Baker, a sign language interpreter moving into writing with this novel. Corinne, the story’s protagonist, is lost and unhappy after her best friend’s death, temping for little money, and generally stuck. The book is only secondarily a romance; first and foremost, it’s about how Corinne finds direction, purpose, and a new group of friends (with a little beyond-the-grave help from her friend). It’s a lovely, warm, readable, relatable story, so good it’s hard to believe it’s a first novel, and I was thrilled to see that a sequel (featuring Corinne’s cousin/new close friend) is coming out in a few months. Already preordered!
As a bonus, this story gives us a pansexual love interest, a non-binary alternative love interest possibility, and a Deaf character (Corinne’s brother) as normal and unremarkable parts of the story. Why is this important, you ask? Because it’s great to have the reminders that actually a lot of people in the world are queer/trans/disabled or otherwise different from the narrow range of people that seems to be all that a lot of media presents to us, and that they have lives that are about a whole range of things that aren’t just Their Differences.
Next up, I asked for recommendations on the wonderful Friends of Captain Awkward forum, and I got plenty. In fact, here’s the full list for anyone else who wants to check them out:
- Alyssa Cole
- Jackie Lau
- Talia Hibbert
- Beverly Jenkins (historical)
- Kennedy Ryan
- Helen Hoang
- Jasmine Guillory
- Sara Desai
- Sonya Lalli
- Mia Sosa
- Chencia C Higgins (seems to write plus-size gay romance from what I’ve seen, so enjoy!)
- Courtney Milan (mainly historical)
- Nailini Singh
So, plenty to keep us romance fans busy through till next Valentine’s Day! I hadn’t planned far enough ahead to check all those out, but here are reviews of the two I did read:
The Professor Next Door by Jackie Lau, a Chinese-Canadian geophysicist who moved into romance writing. This one caught my eye because of the title, and I read it because I’m always up for cute geeky love interests, as well as liking romances that shift between the two main points of view. It was a lovely, low-key, funny, warm romance between two sorted functioning adults with not a Tortured Broken Soul in sight, and I loved it. It’s part of a series in which each of a group of friends finds a partner, and now I want to read the rest; I’ve already read the two spin-off novellas (one of which is available for newsletter subscribers). Oh, yes; and the female protagonist’s sibling is non-binary, and once again that’s treated as completely ordinary; so some representation there again!
And finally, The Worst Best Man by former lawyer Mia Sosa (all these people have such interesting career histories!) is a delightfully funny romcom, also from alternating points of view, in which two people with a really awkward past are stuck with a situation where they both need to work together. Enemies-to-lovers plots are less of a favourite of mine, but they can be done well and this one was. The book did skirt the edges of a ‘let us get ourselves into a situation where we have to lie to everyone and explore the utter hilarity of that’ plot, which is something I really don’t like, but that’s my personal preference, not a flaw in the book; in any case, it was kept to tolerable levels and the rest of the writing definitely made up for it.
Also, there is one scene in the book I liked so much I have to give it special mention even though it is, on the face of it, utterly mundane and nothing to do with the romance: it’s just a scene showing the female protagonist at work doing her job in a focused, competent way. She’s checking out a wedding site (she’s a wedding planner) and asking the owner the questions that need to be asked; how many 72-inch tables can be fitted in there, is there a liquor licence, what’s the power supply like? The owner, who also happens to be a woman, is just as on it and knows the answers straight out. It was like a new and updated version of the Bechdel test; two women have a conversation about a topic related to their jobs in which it’s clear they both know what they’re doing. This shouldn’t be remotely remarkable, but it feels like something we don’t get all that often in a sea of plots about women screwing up at work either for laughter or sympathy on the part of the readership. Is it completely weird that I loved this scene? Probably. I’m weird and I own it and I loved that scene.
But there’s so much else to love about this book as well. We get relatable characters bursting with personality, great readable snarky dialogue, laugh-out-loud moments, vulnerable moments, the lot. Also, I learned about capoeira, which is majorly cool.
So, Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you! Anyone got any other recommendations for romances? Anything I should check out ready for next year’s post?