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#RomBkLove Day 31: Change-Makers

#RomBkLove Day 31: Change-Makers | Leigh Kramer

#RomBkLove is one of my favorite things on Twitter and I am delighted Ana Coqui asked me to be a part of it this year! It is a month-long opportunity for readers to celebrate the romance they love to read and to help cultivate romance-centric conversations. It's a great way to talk about the books you love, discover new ones, and make pals in Romancelandia.

I chose change-makers as my theme because, quite frankly, we could all do with a good dose of hope these days. And while romance as a genre gives me hope, I also need to see hope for the world at large. I need reminders that no matter how awful the news is, there are bright lights striving to bring about change.

This theme is about people doing what they can to improve their community. It's social justice in action, really. I wanted to focus on characters trying to bring about change through their careers or the places they inhabit, whether their efforts help one person or the country at large. While there are lots of books featuring people in helping professions or politics, I wanted to highlight books that really show them doing the work—or at least trying to. 

These characters remind me that not all is lost; we can still make a difference. And so we will.

For the sake of space, I only included contemporary and historical romance but you could definitely make an argument for certain PNR or dystopian series.

Content warnings are included to the best of my ability/memory but if you have specific questions or concerns, please ask. Or if you see one that I missed, let me know and I'll add it in.

A note on representation: as I was compiling this post, I realized none of the FF romance I've read qualified and so I tried reading a couple of others that sounded promising. But alas, they did not. So if you know of any FF romance featuring a change-maker, I'm all ears!

This post contains affiliate links.



American FairytaleAmerican Fairytale - Adriana Herrera

Camilo is a social worker after my own heart! (I used to be a medical social worker.) He works with those affected by intimate partner violence. Tom wants to make a large donation to Camilo's agency, which will allow them to do the things most non-profits only dream of. It was so cool to see Milo's vision for the shelter come to life! Herrera is a social worker herself and it shows, based on how client-centered and strengths-based the story is in what she reveals about his clients and how he practices social work. (Read my full review.)

CW: domestic violence, references to microaggressions and racism

Representation: M/M, Tom is Dominican, Camilo is Cuban-Jamaican, both heroes are queer

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The first book in this series, American Dreamer (Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice) also has a great change-maker in Jude. He's trying to get funding for a library bookmobile, as a way of providing services to children and teens in more rural areas. The library truck will help fill in the gaps of what those smaller town libraries can provide, particularly valuable for those who are part of marginalized groups. (Read my full review.)




An Extraordinary UnionLoyal League series - Alyssa Cole

Where do I even begin with this amazing series set during the Civil War?!  The heroes and heroines are doing their part to end slavery. In An Extraordinary Union, Elle is a freed Black woman posing as a slave in order to spy for the Union army and Malcolm is a white Scotsman who is also spying for the Union army while posing as a Confederate soldier.

In A Hope Divided, Marlie is a Black healer and  spy for the Loyal League, passing along information to the Union Army. She regularly visits the prison to aid the sick and bring what's essentially a lending library, which is where she meets Union Army soldier Ewan. When Ewan escapes prison, Marlie has to help him get to safety. The stakes are so real, y'all. (Read my full review.)

Lastly, in An Unconditional Freedom, Daniel was a free Black man when he was kidnapped and sold in to slavery. While his friends were eventually able to free him, he bears scars both literal and figurative. His quest for revenge leads him to join the Loyal League and he doesn’t care much about making friends, nor does he have much faith in America. Cuban-Caucasian Janeta, on the other hand, starts out spying on the Loyal League for the Confederate Army and has to work through whether she’ll betray Daniel and the Loyal League. She ultimately makes the right call. (Read my full review.

CW: slavery, racism, violence, murder

Representation: each book is M/F, character rep listed in descriptions

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice



RendRend - Roan Parrish

Matt grew up in foster care and had a traumatic childhood. He works with teens who are aging out of the system and this added another layer to the story, as he sees kids who remind him of himself at that age, as well as what he's still processing and learning now as a 25 year old. It was really cool to watch him mentoring his clients and working on projects. I also really appreciated the way the story shows the layers of privilege non-foster care people have. (Read my full review.)

CW: references to childhood abuse and neglect, references to past bullying, grief, death of a minor character

Representation: M/M, Matt is Mexican-Italian, both heroes are gay

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble




Coffee BoyCoffee Boy - Austin Chant

Kieran goes from a dead end job at a fast food restaurant to an internship at a political campaign. It shows the drudgery of campaign work but also the exciting moments. So much of being a change-maker is the day in, day out boots on the ground stuff. Not necessarily glamorous but it gets the job done in the end. Kieran is trans and I really liked how the internship opened up a new avenue for him to consider with his future career. Or even just how he wants to envision his future life in general. It's a really lovely novella.

CW: misgendering

Representation: M/M, Kieran is a queer trans man, Seth is bisexual.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble 




Ten Ways To Be Adored When Landing A LordTen Ways To Be Adored When Landing A Lord - Sarah MacLean

Lady Isabel opens Athena House as a safe place for women who have been abused, neglected, or otherwise down-on-their luck. There they can flourish and it was marvelous to see. Isabel's passion for helping the women under her care was super inspiring and there was so much about her work that's relevant to us today. It was also great to see Nicholas come alongside her!

CW: death of a parent, references to alcoholism and gambling, references to abuse, sexual harassment, and neglect (there may be more but I unfortunately did not track this while reading.)

Representation: M/F

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble





Rogue HeartsIn Her Service - Suleikha Snyder

This is a novella in the Rogue Hearts anthology and it's absolute perfection. It actually gave me hope for our country and not a week has gone by where I haven't thought about her Vice President heroine and Secret Service agent hero. It's set after the 2020 election and not only do we have a female VP but also a female president and they're cleaning up the mess left by the current administration. Could In Her Service be prophetic? Fingers crossed.

Representation: M/F, Letitia is Black, Shahzad is Muslim (I don't have notes on his ethnicity.)

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice





The Doctor's DiscretionThe Doctor’s Discretion - EE Ottoman

When a trans patient is involuntarily committed at the hospital Gus works at, he and his new colleague William decide they must break Moss out and help him find safety, while risking their own safety in the process. The characters are richly drawn and the setting is vivid. The story wades into big issues—transphobia, homophobia, racism—and handles them with deft nuance. Gus has a vested interested in what happens to Moss but as a black man, William has to work through the potential ramifications for risking himself. And at the same time, they both know they can't sit by when such atrocities are being committed, which is a good reminder for us all.

Representation: M/M, William is Black and gay, Augustus is a queer trans man

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble




Clean BreaksClean Breaks - Ruby Lang

Jake is a high school social worker! We get to see him in action and I liked learning about why he chose his profession. School social workers can have a rough go of things since schools often cut their funding so I was glad to see this specific speciality get highlighted. Sarah is an OB/GYN and we get to see her educate about safe sex and abortion. Fated Mates included this book in this interstitial episode specifically because of Sarah's work and because of how she handles a broken condom situation. Sarah is educating her patients and educating readers by proxy.

CW: cancer, broken condom, divorce, complicated family dynamics, references to past bullying and slut-shaming, misogyny, brief discussion of abortion, racism, cultural appropriation

Representation: M/F, Sarah is Chinese, Jake is Taiwanese

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice



Small ChangeSmall Change - Roan Parrish

Have you been craving a book with a badass female tattoo artist fighting sexism in the industry while she looks out for her found family as she falls in love with the guy who owns the new sandwich shop in the neighborhood? Ginger and Christopher are fully present and active in their neighborhood in a way that's mindful of gentrification and respectful of their city's history. And watching Ginger take a stand for her career was incredibly empowering.

CW: sexism, bierasure, depression, reference to attempted suicide

Representation: M/F, Ginger is bisexual

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice




Shelter The SeaShelter The Sea - Heidi Cullinan

The funding for the independent living facility where Emmet and Jeremey live is being threatened. The Roosevelt is an incredible model for care for those who are disabled  and I wish so badly it was the accepted norm, instead of the exception. Even though they have reservations, Emmet and Jeremy and their friends decide to do something about it. I really liked how they wrestled with being on display in order to bring attention to the disabled  community and how unfair but necessary it was. In the age of viral media, it was fun to watch them figure out how to put together a campaign that would raise awareness and bring about change.

CW: depression, references to suicidal ideation and attempted suicide, references to the “R” word (which is not spelled out), references to bullying and marginalization of the disabled community, legislation targeting the disabled community, references to abuse and neglect, including attempted sexual assault

Representation: M/M, Emmet is autistic, Jeremey has depression and social anxiety, other characters are autistic, quadriplegic, and have other disabilities, a side character is aromantic

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice



By Her TouchBy Her Touch - Adriana Anders

George (aka Dr. Georgette Hadley) is a dermatologist who offers free tattoo removal to those who need help. Tattoo removal can be such a gift to those who have experienced hardship and can truly open up fresh, new avenues for them. We first met George in Under Her Skin when she removed a tattoo for the heroine whose abusive ex had forcibly tattooed her. In this one, George meets Clay, an undercover cop who barely escaped his life after infiltrating a horrific biker gang who ended up branding him. This is a gritty, emotional read and it was fascinating to learn more about George and why she decided to make this a component of her practice. 

CW: grief, death of a loved one (spouse, sister), violence, hostage situation, PTSD, cancer

Representation: M/F, Clay is Latinx

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice




Dare To Love A DukeDare To Love A Duke - Eva Leigh

OK, this might seem like a stretch at first but don't we need to read about someone providing a sex-positive establishment? Lucia is the manager at The Orchid Club and yes it's a sex club but it's also a place for everyone—whether lord, lady, or servant, they are all equals when they're there. And in her spare time, she runs a school in a poorhouse and hopes to buy a building where the young girls can learn and live. Lucia doesn't want them to face the same limited options she has and so she does what she can to make a difference. FYI: this book is AMAZING on audiobook. The narrator does a great job of bringing the hero's Irish accent to life!

CW: grief, references to the illness and subsequent death of a family member, reference to being shunned by family and abandonment, reference to the limited options for girls and women in the lower class, sexual harassment, bullying, blackmail

Representation: M/F, Lucia is an Italian immigrant.

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice



Heartbeat Braves

Heartbeat Braves - Pamela Sanderson

Rayanne works at Crooked Rock Urban Indian Center, which focuses on providing services for Indians living in the city. The plot is largely about whether the community center will get the building it needs and if Rayanne will be able to launch her special project for elders. I loved learning about her initiatives and seeing how the staff tried to deal with the crisis the Center faced.

CW: racism

Representation: M/F, Native hero and heroine

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice




How do I participate in #Rombklove?

Readers share their favorite books, characters, scenes, or thoughts on tropes.  Make sure to include the hashtag with your tweet!

Authors are welcome to participate too, as fellow readers. The tag is not meant for self-promotion.

This is the last day so there are plenty of recommendations to go around.


What are your favorite romances with change-makers?

American Fairytale (Dreamers #2) by Adriana Herrera {review}

American Fairytale

Genre: Contemporary Romance, MM Romance


My Review - 5 Stars

I’ve been anticipating this book ever since the series was announced because of the social worker hero. Herrera just graduated with her MSW and has worked in the field of intimate partner violence for a while before that. Fiction so often gets social work wrong and I was hopeful this one would get it right. And boy were my hopes exceeded!

American Fairytale is a romance between a billionaire and a social worker that really wrestles with the financial disparity between them. With that disparity comes potentially complicated power dynamics when billionaire Tom makes a sizable donation to the organization Camilo works at. But there’s more to Tom than meets the eye and because of that, he does as good a job as he can at interrogating his privilege and minimizing the risks for Milo. Would that all billionaires behaved this way…

One of the reasons Tom and Milo work so well together is because of the way they see each other and are able to be fully themselves. Tom is white-passing Dominican-American (his white American father moved to the DR where he met and married his Dominican mother; he grew up in the DR and came to the US for college) and feels like he’s always one or the other in business, where appearing white helps get him ahead, and in his personal life. Milo is Cuban Jamaican and I loved hearing the story of how his parents met and especially how his mother Dinorah came to the US from Cuba on her own as a Marielita, a slice of history I’d never heard about before. Milo has a very close relationship with his mom but he also looks out for her because of her depression and anxiety. Tom and Milo both have things in their lives past partners haven’t necessarily understood but they aren’t barriers for one another and this was so nice to see.

This isn’t to say it’s all sunshine and roses for these two. While Tom initially seems perfect, he very much isn’t. He has to learn money doesn’t solve everything. And Milo has to learn how to let other people in and when it’s the right time to accept help. Their central conflict felt so real and I could clearly see where they were both coming from.

I adored Tom and Camilo but especially Camilo because of the way he practiced social work. What I found most fascinating in how Herrera structured the story is how client-centered and strengths-based it is in what she reveals about his work. While Tom and Milo both have loved ones affected by partner violence, his clients are never trotted out with their stories or put on display. Instead we see them at a dance class or in their apartment going hard after that fresh start. It was beyond refreshing to read a story to took clients’ agency to this degree.

As with the first book in the series, the side characters are a delight. Tom has such a wonderful group of friends and it was great seeing him as a single father, sharing responsibilities with his ex. I loved the glimpses we see of Nesto and Jude, as well as Juan Pablo and Patrice. It was interesting that Camilo’s friends are less central now, with both Nesto and Patrice in Ithaca. And yet they’re still clearly a priority for one another. It was an unexpected look at how friendships can change but continue to grow no matter where life takes us.

Herrera is clearly an author to watch and I cannot wait to read the next book in this series.

CW: domestic violence, references to microaggressions and racism



Fairy-tale endings don’t just happen; they have to be fought for.

New York City social worker Camilo Santiago Briggs grew up surrounded by survivors who taught him to never rely on anything you didn’t earn yourself. He’s always dreamed of his own happily-ever-after, but he lives in the real world. Men who seem too good to be true…usually are. And Milo never ever mixes business with pleasure…until the mysterious man he had an unforgettable hookup with turns out to be the wealthy donor behind his agency’s new, next-level funding.

Thomas Hughes built a billion-dollar business from nothing: he knows what he wants and isn’t shy about going after it. When the enthralling stranger who blew his mind at a black-tie gala reappears, Tom’s more than ready to be his Prince Charming. Showering Milo with the very best of everything is how Tom shows his affection.

Trouble is, Milo’s not interested in any of it. The only thing Milo wants is Tom.

Fairy-tale endings take work as well as love. For Milo, that means learning to let someone take care of him, for a change. And for Tom, it’s figuring out that real love is the one thing you can’t buy.


Buy The Book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from Carina Press in exchange for an honest review.