Igrewup knowing all the connotations of pink, thanks to my feminist mother. Pink wasthe color of Barbie’sshoes, hula hoops, and Pink Floyd, all of which she loathed. Andthe color of bubble gum and cotton candy, neither of which she allowed (she wasan early foodie). But somewhere along theline, pink took on a different connotation: itwas adopted by a fierce band of women tackling a devastating disease—breastcancer. These days, pink isfeminine and feminist, the color ofwomen warriors.
Thisfall Penguin Books has launched a special initiative to promote breast cancerawareness: classic, reissued romances written by Nora Roberts, Bertrice Small,and more, tagged with pink ribbons. I read a few of these novels, and wasdelighted to find romances with no relation to cotton candy. These are books thattackle life’s toughest issueshead-on, that depict men and women in hardship, in pain, and in love.
NoraRoberts‘sAngels Fall is the story of ReeceGilmore, a woman whose life is torn apart by the kind of casual violence thathas become seemingly commonplace in America. The sole survivor of aworkplace massacre, she suffers from extreme PTSD. Oncea promising chef, she now lives hand-to-mouth in a rattling car, hitting theground every time a truck backfires. Whenthe novel begins, she finds herself in a tiny town, meeting a sardonic, surlywriter named Brody, and begins to heal—until she witnesses a murder.She’salready considered a nutcase, so no one believes her, except for Brody.He is the man every woman living through traumaneeds at her side. When Reece tries to hideher scars, Brody shocks her out of self-pity by mocking her ears and her skinnyhips. He never babies her, but he fights for her, always remembers to lock thedoors, and brings her tulips in every color of the rainbow.
IreneStenson, the heroine of Jayne Ann Krenz‘s All Night Long, is also haunted bymurder—but in her case, it’sthe deaths of her mother and father. Shediscovered their bodies as a teenager, and even now, seventeen years later, she’safraid of the dark, and blood makes her dizzy. Irenenever believed the police’s verdict ofmurder/suicide, and she’s come home to find outthe truth. Along with a murderer, she finds a man who understands, bone-deep,what it is to be scarred by death. Luke Danner is an ex-Marinehaunted by the whap-whap-whap ofhelicopters, unable to take himself out of “battleready” mode. Lukeis a gruff, taciturn man, the kind a woman can lean on, and cry on, and dependon. He’sno more social than Brody and he, too, believes Irene when no one else does.In a spinning world, he is, as she says, “sureand true and right.”
InJodiThomas‘sWelcome to Harmony, Alex McAllen is the town sheriff—and a woman givento behavior unbefitting to her uniform. She is so scarred by theguilt she feels for her brother’s death that she tendsto drink herself insensible on Saturday nights. Luckilyfor Alex, her brother’s best friend, firechief Hank Matheson, hauls her out of the bar before she goes home with anycowboy who wanders by. In short, Alex’sproblems aren’t small, and Jodi Thomasdoesn’t minimize them.She is a woman in pain, a woman whose guilt isas crippling as Reece’s fear in Angels Fall.Hank becomes her right hand, not only in the bar, but as they tackle a firebugthreatening their small town, and his strength gives her the courage to fighton, to accept the past. This novel lookssquarely at the fact that despairing people are not always easy to get alongwith—nor to love. And yet they need lovemore than anyone else.
CatherineAnderson‘sAlways in My Heart looks at a pain that iseven sharper than that caused by the death of a brother or parent: two years ago Ellie Grant and herex-husband Tucker lost their oldest boy Sammy—and their marriage shortlythereafter. Nowthey’re both trying to mend.Ellie is certain that Tucker’sluscious girlfriend Liz doesn’t bother her. Tuckerthinks Ellie’s friend Marvin is aloser, but it’s none of his business.The only people who truly don’taccept Marvin and Liz are the Grants’two remaining children, Kody and Zach. Butit’s not until the boysmanufacture a way to get Ellie and Tucker into the wilderness together, withtime alone, that they discover each other’swracking guilt. Both of them are hiding a heart-breaking secret, and it’sTucker who realizes that they must learn to talk to each other. Evenbetter, he knows exactly the words that will start the healing:”I’llalways, always love you…until therivers stop flowing, and the ocean goes dry.”
ChristinaDodd‘s Ann Smith, in Scent of Darkness, feels unlovable notbecause of a burden of guilt or sorrow, but because she was convinced as ayoung girl that she somehow attracts devilish attention—and that those who loveher will die. Thinkingthat camouflage will work a miracle, she laughs softly, never swears, keeps hervirginity, and dresses sedately, hoping to disguise the scary little tattoo she’shad from birth, the one that will attract the Evil One and his minions. Whatshe needs is no more than what the other women in these books need: someone whobelieves her, who loves her, and who is not frightened by her problems.Someone who will stop her from feeling unloved,unwanted, and sorry for herself.In her case, this turns out to be Jasha Wilder. Adistant ancestor of Jasha’s made a pact with the devil,so her little tattoo is nothing compared to the one that ripples from hisshoulder to his waist. He realizes that Annwouldn’t, in his words,recognize love if it dragged her into the forest, but he convinces her: “Withoutyou, I’m not whole…Maybe youwant a stronger man who doesn’t need you.But this is the only kind of love I have, andit’s yours if you want it.”
Sittingacross from a doctor when she says the word “cancer”is a moment that no woman forgets. But if that womanhappens to have at her shoulder a man like those described in these novels—thekind who will love her no matter what, who acceptsher scars and her guilt and even her drunken Saturday nights—then she isluckier than she feels. Life spends a good dealof time knocking us down. These novels build areader back up, giving her the backbone and the courage to go on for anotherday, without pretending that scars and guilt are easy to ignore, or that theydon’t mark us as people. Thatmakes them perfect complements to the cause they support.
Please stop in to join our scintillating conversation about romances and chat with Eloisa James in the Romantic Reads Book Club. And please do check out Eloisa’s past columns in the Archives, and if you’d like to get her reaction to romances as she reads them, follow her on Facebook or Twitter. If you’d like a peek at Eloisa’s own romances, please visit her web site at www.eloisajames.com.
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Eloisa James’s new novel A Kiss at Midnight is now available in paperback and eBook editions.