Sep 21 2017 1:00pm

3 Books That Put the Romance Back in Fiction

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

The earliest readers of Heroes & Heartbreakers know that I used to write opinion articles here. This is my first piece in a long time, and I am so delighted to return here. The Romance in Fiction column will feature books that have a strong romantic subplot. While I read widely and enjoy fiction of all kind, I find that the stories that resonate with me best are the ones with a love interest in them. I don't necessarily mean only romance genre fiction, but also general fiction with a touch of romance.

For example, I love C.S. Harris's long-running Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mystery series for the detecting elements and the era, but also for the thread of Sebastian's romantic entanglements that, to me, is the heart of the series and the driving force of the series.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey through the romance to be found in fiction as I explore which books spoke to me vividly.

The three stories I have chosen below are stories of bravery, where the protagonists have to take courage into their hands to achieve happiness.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

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This book is set in the English countryside. There is all the insularity and peculiarity of living in close quarters with a few families. Everyone is in everyone else's business and gossips about whoever is not there. Bossy women run the social life of the village. Old spinsters run the gardening clubs and book clubs. Middle-aged men play golf. But then comes this Pakistani-British family in the midst of all this country whiteness. They're “othered” and treated as foreigners even though they were born in England, and they forever disturb the homogeneous harmony of the village.

The path to love for Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali is full of societal and cultural hurdles in addition to romantic ones. She's Muslim, from the North of England, lower middle class, and runs a shop. He's the offspring of a British Empire officer, retired major of the army, comfortably middle class, and occupying a genteel place in Edgecombe St. Mary society. She's Pakistani-British born in England; he's Caucasian-British born in Lahore, Pakistan. And yet, they share a love of Kipling, poetry, long walks, have had spouses who've passed away, and speak English and Urdu.

While the Major struggles with how his growing relationship with Mrs. Ali is affecting his place in village society, Mrs. Ali struggles with familial and cultural obligations versus independence and freedom of choice. But they brave all the naysayers in choosing happiness — they're so gentle with each other, carefully treasuring each other's thoughts and choices and actions. It's a romance to sigh over.

Under a Sardinian Sky by Sara Alexander

Under a Sardinian Sky by Sara Alexander

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Sara Alexander has done extensive research on Sardinia of the 1950s and its history and it shows. The setting is like a character in the story — enticing, emotional, and compelling. No detail is too insignificant or too momentous. I enjoy being fully immersed in a place so I can experience it as the characters are encountering it, and in Alexander's book, Sardinia came alive for me. The joy of family and familial love is a theme that hums through this whole story. Food also plays a pivotal role in bringing people together and conveys a plethora of emotions from joy, sorrow, and fear to awkwardness, desire, and revulsion. This is a book where emotions are intensely felt.

Set in the small town of Simius in post-World War II Sardinia, Carmela Chirigoni is a young woman still living at home with her beloved family. She’s a talented seamstress working in her godmother’s shop conjuring up avant-garde designs. Lieutenant Joe Kavanagh is an American soldier stationed at the base on the island. They are an unlikely pair: she's a homebody and hasn't been anywhere other than her small town. He's a hardened soldier who's lived in different countries abroad. And yet, something pulls them together.

There's a tender scene where they're sitting at the hospital bedside of Carmel's injured cousin: the halting conversation, their attraction towards each other, visible on her part, muted on his, the tentativeness they both feel in this restrained environment, and the fragility of the newness of this connection. And out of this, their love flowers into joy and a strength of purpose. This is a story of such heart.

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

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This is a delicious puzzle box of a book with handsome writing that gives a new look to stories set in the Jazz Age. Switching between 1920s New York and contemporary times, the book is peopled by a witty irreverent flapper, a tough Prohibition agent, a young innocent Princeton student, an accounting wizard, and a musician carpenter. The contemporary and historical storylines intersect at various points in the book as two smart, clever women journey through life discovering themselves and their romantic inclinations.

The Roaring Twenties is the age of Prohibition and raids of speakeasies were common. On one of those unexpected raids, Geneva “Gin” Rose has a run in with a straitlaced Prohibition agent, Oliver Anson. He hauls her off to jail to dry her out, before having her summoned before him in the rundown tenements near the Chelsea docks. There he puts her entire life history before her and informs her that her step-father has built himself a huge fortune making and selling illegal liquor. And then Anson asks her to risk her life to spy on her step-father.

From this improbable beginning comes a deep love only if Gin and Anson are willing to take the leap into joy. With these two cagey, cautious people, trust is two steps forward, one step back. But this issue notwithstanding, they overcome their natures — they fall in love in spite of themselves. I cheered when they finally succumbed to temptation. For these two, this was tantamount to a lifelong commitment.


H&H Editor Picks:

Epic Romances Lead to Epic Loves

26 Romances You Won’t Want to Miss!

September 2017 Romance Novels New Releases Shopping List






Keira Soleore writes for USA Today Happy Ever After (http://, All About Romance (, and Cogitations & Meditations ( She enjoys connecting with readers on Twitter (@KeiraSoleore) and can also be reached via her website ( In addition to being an avid reader, she is an amateur student of medieval manuscripts, a lapsed engineer, a choral singer, and a dedicated fan of sunshine and beaches.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. flmom1957
The St. Cyr series is one of my favorites. And I just finished Major Pettigrew. Loved it so much, it will be my book the next time I host the Best Book Club Ever!
Keira Soleore
3. KeiraSoleore
The St. Cyr series hits my sweet spot of classic British crime, detecting, and the Regency era. I'm a huge fan.

Isn't Pettigrew charming? I loved how they come at each other from opposite ends of the spectrum but slowly come together? Hope the book's a success at your book club.
Keira Soleore
5. KeiraSoleore
Thank you, Kareni, for the encouragement. Hope you'll join me every two months for this column.
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