If romance, at least on some level, is creative fairy tale fantasy, then Lauren Layne is a sophisticated Cinderella in stilettos version.
I’ve read a number of her books and have really enjoyed them all, but over the past few months, I especially enjoyed her Central Park Pact series.
Yes, there are some details that feel a little far-fetched, and there are moments when the name-dropping of designer labels is a little over the top, but aside from those tiny quibbles, this series is a delight.
When three women who were all involved with the same man (his widow, his mistress and his girlfriend, I think they’re described at least once) meet on a park bench near the church where his funeral is taking place, they decide to put their differences aside (after all, they were all duped by him!) and make a pact to watch out for each other and make sure they don’t get taken in by predatory men again. (Yes, that whole series preface is one of the details that feels somewhat outlandish…but honestly, for me, Layne sold it.)
In Book 1, PASSION ON PARK AVENUE, successful jewelry tycoon Naomi finds herself buying an apartment right next door to the family her mother was a live-in housekeeper for, but the son of the family who tormented her as a child is all grown up, and pretty attractive. But she’s determined not to like him, which gets harder and harder the more she sees the charming, loyal, capable man he’s become, especially as he deals with a difficult father who’s succumbing to dementia.
In Book 2, LOVE ON LEXINGTON AVENUE, Claire decides to renovate her brownstone and rid herself of the remnants of her cheating husband’s footprints. She doesn’t plan on falling for the arrogant, irritating contractor who condescendingly takes on the job as a refreshing break from his usual massive industrial builds around the world while assuming she’s a fluffy society princess. But first impressions shift on both sides as her home is refitted and her soul is recalibrated, free from her husband’s influence and embarrassing infidelities.
And finally, in Book 3, MARRIAGE ON MADISON AVENUE, Audrey is once again embroiled in her best-friend-since-childhood Clarke’s family drama when he dodges his mother’s matchmaking attempts by claiming Audrey is his fiancée. Of course the two fall in love – it’s a romance novel, after all – but the path is neither easy nor clichéd, and Layne takes a few unexpected turns in their path to happily-ever-after.
Layne is a great writer and this series is a kind of Sex In The City meets Harlequin Presents with her own special spin. Very fun, lots of personality, great dialogue and characters. The special, unexpectedly fierce friendship the women construct sounds hard to believe, but again, I think the author sells it, especially once the men sort of join the group and get to know each other and the other women.
There’s unexpected grace in picking yourself up from mortifying circumstances, whether you fell into them through little fault of your own or with your eyes wide open. Finding people who share and understand your pain and help you shuffle along until your spirit finds healing is an even greater blessing.
I really enjoyed these books, which are definitely romances but have lots of emotional depth in elements that are often considered the realm of women’s fiction—forgiveness, friendship, reinvention and self-discovery. The sex scenes are also much more “closed door” than we’re used to from Layne, but there was plenty of romantic and sexual tension, so it didn’t bother me, but if you like your romance hot, keep that in mind too.
Overall though, I think these are books most romance fans would love!
(If these are a little out of your budget, check your local library. I got them all in audio from mine.)
(This review is part of Read-A-Romance Month. Hope you’ll come back every day to check out my book recommendations. You can find the calendar here. Also check out The Romance of Reading, a Facebook “book club” where we’ll have great authors guest hosting every week.)
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