Hot Stuff: February romance novels are tender and warmhearted


February is the one month a year the rest of the world decides it's time to talk about romance (and generally in an uninformed fashion). But here at Hot Stuff, we're all about celebrating romance 365 days of the year. Here's our take on five new romance titles from February.

Love at First, by Kate Clayborn

Review: Technically speaking, the Romantic poets are the likes of Shelley, Keats, and Byron, but Love at First is further fuel for the argument that Kate Clayborn should be dubbed one herself. Deeply romantic, her writing is a palimpsest, constantly revealing new layers of lyricism. Love at First is a standalone companion piece to her magnificent Love Lettering. When Will Sterling unexpectedly inherits his estranged uncle's Chicago apartment, he doesn't expect to encounter Nora Clarke, the girl he first saw at 15 and fell for with a single glance. And he especially doesn't expect Nora to be the one spearheading the building's attempts to sabotage his desire to make his unit a short-term rental. But as sabotage transforms to genuine connection, the two interrogate what happens when destiny gives way to choosing someone every day. Love At First is utterly guileless, a novel that paints its pictures of love and found family with the same earnest wonder Nora reserves for the early morning hours just before the dawn. It's a tale of grief and loss, of learning to build and nurture a family when the one you were given abandons you. There's palpable pain here, a real sense of how losing the ones we love most can untether us. But it's a remarkable tale of how essential mourning is, how grief never really goes away, it just changes us and shapes us into people who have had to learn how to hold someone in their heart in new ways. While Nora wrestles with how to let go in a way that honors her grandmother's legacy, Will struggles with how to put down roots with someone at all. Clayborn understands how love in its multitudes can be terrifying, comforting, cozy, and reckless, and she writes characters with a breathless zeal as they learn to love in ways that defy selfishness and embrace uncertainty. From stolen moments on balconies to encounters with the quirky denizens of Nora's building, Clayborn offers a panoply of moments that feel both painstakingly real and deeply poetic. And isn't that what poetry is? Making the mundane into something marvelous. Love at First is poetry, then — sometimes an artful sonnet, other times halting free verse. But it's never anything short of miraculous.