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Book Notes: Belles of London Series

Some of you may have noticed a new addition to our store — Island Books now has a dedicated romance section and I couldn't be happier. Cheerful covers in bright colors, containing stories where all kinds of people find their HEA (happy ever after) or HFN (happy for now). As a person who decidedly prefers books to end on a happy (or at least hopeful) note, romances are a genre I can count on. And often an author will write a series that lets you watch everyone out of a friend group find love, allowing me to linger in a delightful fictional world.

One series that I just discovered, a little late to the party, is Belles of London by Mimi Matthews. Lil recommended the first book, The Siren of Sussex, a few years ago, and I was finally able to pick it up. I barely needed Cindy’s "first page test" to be hooked and quickly finished it. I then raced through the next two books, The Belle of Belgrave Square and The Lily of Ludgate Hill, in this planned four book series. (The fourth being The Muse of Maiden Lane, coming out 11/19/24).

Set in Victorian England, all the heroines are equestriennes, and finding the marriage mart challenging for a variety of reasons. The Siren of Sussex features Evelyn Maltravers, the second daughter of an impoverished family. After her older sister embroiled herself in scandal instead of making the advantageous marriage she was supposed to, Evelyn is tasked with snaring herself a wealthy husband and saving her family. But she knows her best chance to catch the eye of eligible noblemen is not in the ballroom but on the back of her horse, a place she always feels confident. And to really make an impression, she needs the most fashionable riding habits she can afford.

Enter Ahmad Malik, who only needs the right influential woman of the ton to wear his designs to help him finally realize his dream of owning his own dressmaker's establishment. When Evelyn commissions him to make her riding habits, he decides to take her as his muse and dress her for the season. It's not long before fitting sessions blossom into something more, but Evelyn is bound by financial constraints. And Ahmad is reluctant to entangle his own heart with a woman society says he could never have. The path of true love never did run smooth!

I loved the way Mimi Matthews took on the challenges of an interracial couple with significant class differences as the heart of her romance. And I also loved every lushly described detail of the gorgeous clothes Ahmad designs for Evelyn. Throughout The Siren of Sussex, enough teasers are dropped for the other heroines of her series (and their prospective beaus) that I was eager to continue on and see what romances lay in store for them. Matthews builds romantic tension masterfully and employs a dual point-of-view so the reader can appreciate the inner journeys of both leads.

Pick up The Siren of Sussex if a swoony Victorian historical romance series sounds like the escape read you need right now. Or come check out our new romance section and see what else catches your eye!

— Lori