I love romance novels and I could not be less guilty about it. Anyone who thinks they’re mindless trash can come fight me out back, because romance novels are amazing. Where else can you find an unlimited supply of small towns inexplicably named Sugar, Dreams or Cupid? What other genre attracts plotlines so batshit I must breathlessly relay them via Facebook messenger to all my friends? Sure, things blow up in action movies, but have you ever found yourself rooting for a misunderstood werewolf lawyer?
(I once read a romance novel called fucking Legal Wolf and I have no regrets.)
Okay so, rant over. If you are a hopeless romantic, or someone who pretends they are a robot inside but you’re secretly made of marshmallow smoosh, have I got some book pairings for you.
A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran and Hush Rose by Dirty Laundry Vineyards
Jane Mason, our heroine, is one bad bitch in this political drama set in the 1800s. Desperate to escape her evil uncle, who wants her to marry his terrible son so he can keep her inheritance in the family, she quickly marries Crispin Burke, her uncle’s almost equally terrible friend. I say “marries” but I really mean “signs up to be his widow because FREEDOM”. Crispin’s on his deathbed after an accident, so she convinces an old slutty archbishop to marry them. No harm no foul, right?
The trouble is, awful Crispin, political schemer and blackmailer, doesn’t die. Oh, and he has amnesia. He pledges to remember Jane and their blissful engagement and courtship, which didn’t exist. I’m usually not a big ol’ fan of amnesia plotlines but Meredith Duran is adept at making you feel the blood drain from Jane’s face when she hears he’s alive and pining for their memories together. The rest of the book is Jane mentally screaming FUUUUUUUUCK while trying to deal with much nicer version of Crispin, and Crispin trying to navigate the tangled web he wove in politics in his previous life.
Not only does Jane have to dance around the details of their ‘courtship’, but Crispin is dealing with fallout from his new approach to his political schemes. No one is happy with Newer, Moral Crispin (except Jane), and since Crispin can’t remember who he’s crossed or double-crossed and why, things get pretty murder-y before they get better.
Pair this tense, action-packed romance with the ultimate patio sipper, Hush Rose. Made in the Okanagan, high in the foothills, Dirty Laundry’s little secret is the perfect lush-but-gentle pair to this book, because you WILL be stress-sipping.
Amazon: A Lady’s Code of Misconduct
Dating-ish by Penny Reid and Night by Ex Nihilo
I almost put this book down, and that would have been a terrible mistake, because it turned out to quite possibly be my favourite romance of all time. At first I wasn’t really into Penny Reid’s style, which can get a little heavy on the “oh how wonderful my friend group is!” stuff. I am always suspect of books which claim people have more than two close friends in their 30s.
But holy good goddamn, did Penny Reid deliver hard in this contemporary romance about Marie, a lonely journalist, and Matthew, a scientist creating a compassionate artificial intelligence robot. Matthew tricks her into a date which turns out to be a research questionnaire for his AI project. Marie is understandably pissed and blackmails Matthew into turning over his research for a series she’s doing on unconventional solutions for companionship.
I loved the depth of Marie. She has a full life with friends, hobbies and a great job. We get to watch her explore these “solutions” for the lonely – professional cuddling, professional dry humping (apparently a thing!), orgasm meditation, and of course Matthew’s AI work. Matthew follows her around to all these excursions as they become friends (and also because he has a massive thing for her, obviously.)
Their relationship is a very slow burn. Matthew told Marie he doesn’t want a long term relationship, and unlike every other heroine of all time, she decides to believe him. There’s no will-they/won’t-they, because Marie takes herself out of the game. Instead we watch them fall in friendship and then in love in real time. It makes the payoff (and incredibly hot sex, seriously, A+) so worth it.
For your pairing, allow me to recommend Night, a blended red from Ex Nihilo winery in the Lake Country of British Columbia. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc come together in a marriage as deep, dark and sexy as this book.
Cuff Me by Lauren Layne and Grey Monk Pinot Gris
Curl up with a classic friends-to-lovers trope with a bit of a twist: the friends in question are partners in the NYPD.
Jill and Vincent know each other’s coffee orders, food preferences, instincts, and trust the other to take a bullet for them. Jill has had a thing for Vincent for literal years, but he’s a hardnosed cop without much patience for relationships or something as crazy as love! “LOVE IS FOR WIMPS.” – Vince, probably. You get the feeling he has a lady named Rhonda somewhere that he sleeps with every three months to take the edge off.
Then Jill gets engaged, chiefly because she’s feeling the pressure to get married and move on with her life. She’s accepted that Vincent will never be her man, and she tries her best to get behind Option B. I forget the name of Option B and I can’t be bothered to look it up, but he’s everything a last-ditch husband should be: monied, blandly good-looking, and non-threatening. Unfortunately for Jill, her engine doesn’t rev for this guy. He wants her to move to his city because that’s where he works in his boring real estate career.
Jill doesn’t love the idea of moving, and she definitely doesn’t love Option B, but for some reason she’s entertaining this idea because Babies. You know what they say, the best way to get over someone is to marry a vaguely kind real estate agent in another state!
Vincent, on the other hand, Does Not Love This At All. As he slowly realizes yes, he’s been in love with Jill for a while and yes he needs to say something before she leaves forever, this lovely book heats up. His entire family keeps ragging on him to pull his head out of his ass, for some bonus family hilarity.
For this book, you need a wine that goes the distance. Fun, balanced and just a little bit serious (but not too serious), Gray Monk Pinot Gris is the perfect pairing. It’s a little thin on the surface, but the more you drink, the more you’ll see develop on your palette, including big juicy flavours of white peach, pear and apple.
Amazon: Cuff Me (New York’s Finest)